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Is HBCU Tennessee State Owed $1B From Underfunding? Why Many Say Governor’s $250M Isn’t Enough


Tennessee State University is a 110-year-old Historically Black University in the heart of Nashville. Like many of the 101 HBCUs still active, TSU is financially struggling. And it’s struggling in part from underfunding.

It was discovered in 2019 that the school, founded in 1912, has been underfunded by the state by the for five decades, and the state now owes the school $500 million. As one of Tennessee’s two land-grant universities, TSU is partially funded by the federal government and the state matches that amount.

Tennessee allotted a partial repayment of $250 million to the school in its 2022 budget. But some say that the amount will not cover the damage already done due to long-term underfunding. Several campus buildings, for example, are in dire need of repair. On top of this, some observers estimate that by the time the state totally repays the school, it could be owed north of a billion dollars.

TSU is a public HBCU and it is the only state-funded HBCU in Tennessee. It offers 41 bachelor’s degrees, 23 master’s degrees, and eight doctoral degrees.

In October, Governor Bill Lee’s responded to $500 million in funding owed to TSU. Lee allotted $250 million, half of the total $500 million, into the budget to repay the school after decades of underfunding the university.

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There were millions of dollars from federal research money the state never delivered to the school and as part of 2022’s budget, the state invested half of what is owed to the university.

Governor Lee told Fox 17 News the state plans to fulfill their commitment they’ve made to the university.

“The plan is to fulfill the commitment that we’ve made to TSU, which is the largest and most historic funding commitment ever, $250 million plus additional funding and we have worked together with TSU leadership to make certain that those funds are spent correctly. That’s the plan,” said Lee.

He added, “We have made a historic investment in Tennessee State University and the leadership there has worked with us and are pleased with that investment. And to date that’s all that’s been discussed.”

The underfunding was outlined in a 2021 memo from the Tennessee Higher Education Commission. The memo listed buildings and programs at Tennessee State University that need “critical attention” after the school was not properly funded by the state.

“It speaks to the fact that for decades, when Tennessee State did not get its required state matching funds, that they were not able to maintain their buildings,” Rep. Harold Love Jr., chair of the land-grant committee, told News Channel 5 Nashville.

Tennessee State University commencement (Photo: TSU website,

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