The Texas State Connection - From the Beginning
By Susan Raybuck
On November 8, 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson returned to his alma mater, Southwest Texas State Teachers College (now called Texas State University – San Marcos) to sign into law one of the signature legislative accomplishments of The Great Society: the Higher Education Act.
The plan for the November 8th event, according to Connections: Lyndon B. Johnson in San Marcos, was for a picturesque signing ceremony on the steps in front of Old Main. However, as then-Publicity Assistant/Editing and Reporting Lab Instructor Pat Murdock recalled:
The Higher Education Act of 1965 (HEA) significantly expanded educational opportunity in the U.S., reaching out to include minorities and those living in poverty. The roots of that legislation stretched back to Johnson’s college years.
In 1926, the young LBJ enrolled at Southwest Texas State Teachers College in San Marcos. His family’s financial situation required him to work his way through college, working at a number of jobs during those years. After just one year, Johnson took his sophomore year off to work as a teacher in the small South Texas town of Cotulla. An excerpt from President Johnson’s address revealed the impact that year had on him:
Federal provisions for education of racial minorities date back to just after the Civil War, with the enactment of legislation to ensure educational opportunities for freed slaves. While a few colleges for African Americans existed prior to the Civil War in Northern States, none were located in the South.
Even before legislation passed, Howard University was established in Washington, D.C., specifically to educate African Americans, although it was open to all races from the beginning. The federal government provided much of the funding. In 1862, Congress passed the Morrill Act establishing land grants to fund colleges, including grants for freed slaves.
A number of what are now called Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) were started then in order to ensure that former slaves and their descendants developed the skills needed to be free and self-supporting citizens in a democracy.
Congress soon realized that Southern and border states in most cases were not setting up colleges for blacks, so a second Morrill Act (of 1890) was passed, requiring separate land grant funding systems for whites and blacks. While the funding was supposed to be equal for separate systems, the colleges and universities established for blacks in Southern states were never provided with more than a small fraction of the funding of that provided to colleges for whites.
President Johnson’s vision of a Great Society included an end to poverty, and a renewed realization that the federal government had a special responsibility for ensuring educational opportunity for blacks because of the previous eight decades of institutionalized inequity. Title III of the HEA of 1965 provided direct support for “Developing Institutions.” While the language did not directly address funding for HBCUs, most met the criteria for Developing Institutions.
Since that provision of the HEA was not exclusively aimed at them, HBCUs share of federal dollars started shrinking again as they competed with increasing numbers of struggling community colleges and new Tribally Controlled Community Colleges (TCCCs) for funding. In order to ensure funding for HBCUs and TCCCs, the 1986 reauthorization of the HEA folded previous legislation into the Act in order to ensure they had dedicated funding.
It was not until the 1992 reauthorization of the HEA that the first legal provision to provide dedicated funding for Hispanic-Serving Institutions was included. In the case of HSIs, the federal government recognized a responsibility to ensure equal opportunity for access to higher education.