HomePine Bluff newsUAPB's Chancellor Dr. Alexander Laurence addresses funding shortfalls

UAPB’s Chancellor Dr. Alexander Laurence addresses funding shortfalls

Pine Bluff, Arkansas – Over the past three decades, several historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) spread across 16 states, including Arkansas, have been on the receiving end of a major financial shortfall. The Biden administration recently highlighted this alarming discrepancy in funding, pointing out that these essential educational institutions, designed to uplift minority communities, have been left grappling with financial challenges.

A letter from the Secretaries of the United States Agriculture and Education Departments addressed to Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders presented some sobering statistics. The University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff (UAPB) alone, the letter asserts, has been shortchanged to the tune of $330.9 million over a span of 30 years. This underfunding isn’t just a fiscal oversight; it’s a breach of the equitable distributions stipulated by federal law.

What’s more revealing is that the heart of this issue lies in the classification of universities. The nation’s land-grant universities, inclusive of the University of Arkansas and UAPB, were birthed in the 19th century. Their foundational objective, deeply rooted on federal land, was to propel agricultural instruction and research. Such universities have been pivotal in reshaping America’s educational and research landscape.

As the HBCU Partners Act highlights, HBCUs, which include the 1890 land-grant institutions, comprise a mere 3% of postsecondary institutions. Yet, their contribution to the Black community is substantial, enrolling roughly 10% of all Black college students.

Voices from the Heart of UAPB

Chancellor Dr. Alexander Laurence, reflecting on this financial disparity, remarked, “We think about the funding we could have gotten or what we could have had, but we don’t dwell on that.” This sentiment underscores the resilience and forward-looking attitude of the university and its leadership.

Defending Governor Sanders, Dr. Laurence acknowledges the corrective measures initiated by her. He said, “Governor Sanders came into office and supported giving UAPB an additional $2 million a year this year, an additional $2 million next year.” Still, the Chancellor firmly believes that there’s a longer journey ahead. He emphasizes the need for broader investments, not just from the state government, but also from the federal sphere and corporate entities. “We’d like to see more investments in UAPB from the state government, federal government, and quite honestly, more investments from the corporations and foundations within Arkansas and beyond,” Laurence added.

Dr. Laurence’s deep conviction in UAPB’s legacy of delivering quality education has only strengthened his commitment to the institution. The focus, as he sees it, is not on the past but on the possibilities that the future holds.

Leon Jones III, an alumnus of UAPB, echoes a similar sentiment but from a graduate’s perspective. For him, the underfunding isn’t just a fiscal issue but a matter of value and respect. “It goes to show the value that’s placed on my education at an HBCU and as a black student in the state versus my white peers,” he stated. While UAPB has garnered recognition for its band and sports achievements, Jones believes that its academic accomplishments deserve equal, if not more, spotlight. “People are very well aware of UAPB,” Jones said. “I want people to start treating UAPB as a highly respected educational institution that produces greatness.”

A Call for Parity

The letter underscores a distinct divergence in funding, pointing out that while the 1862 land-grant institution, UofA, has seen sufficient appropriations, its 1890 counterpart, UAPB, has been side-lined in recent years. The recommendation is clear: a significant state allocation to redress the deficit, coupled with a budgetary commitment for a two-to-one match of federal land-grant funding, ensuring equitable financial grounds.

In response to the letter, a spokesperson for Governor Sanders issued a statement underlining her unwavering support for UAPB. “The governor is proud of the rich tradition at UAPB and will continue to support the Golden Lions,” the statement read. “A threatening, politically charged letter from the Biden administration bureaucrats won’t change her commitment to working with our partners in the legislature to continue supplying all students with high-quality education and learning opportunities.”

As UAPB and other HBCUs navigate these challenges, the resounding call for financial justice and equitable support grows stronger.

Olivia Martinez

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