California State University System Then & Now

CSU Then and Now

by Seth Sandronsky in Comstocks Magazine – May 2017

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As enrollment at California State University campuses has increased, state funding for the system has dramatically declined. Take increasing student enrollment. Add economics. Stir both in slowly with the 23-campus California State University system during the past three decades and nowadays you get stark inequality.

Over the past 30 years, the State of California has drastically reduced its funding for the CSU system and put more financial burden on students, and that trend seems to be continuing: Gov. Jerry Brown’s revised May 2017-18 state budget includes tuition increases for 2017-18. This decrease in funding has accompanied an increase in students, leaving CSU faculty alarmed.The budget “shows a real-tone-deafness to the 30-year trend of defunding the CSU,” says California Faculty Association President Jennifer Eagan, a professor of philosophy and public affairs and administration at Cal State East Bay. “It heads us in the wrong direction.”

The CSU system has been heading in this direction for awhile. In Equity, Interrupted: How California Is Cheating Its Future, released earlier this year, the California Faculty Association, a union of 28,000 faculty, librarians, counselors and coaches, lays out this funding trend.

The report also shows how CSU’s student demographics look a lot different today than they did three decades ago. From 1985 to 2015, enrollment of white students declined from 63 percent to 26 percent. Over that same timeframe, nonwhite CSU enrollment rose from 27 percent in 1985 to 62 percent.

These demographics mirror changes in California’s population as a whole, according to California Department of Finance data cited in the paper. The state’s white population fell from 61 percent in 1985 to 39 percent in 2015. The population of California — the country’s most diverse and populous state — identifying as non-white rose from 39 percent in 1985 to 62 percent 30 years later.

As the demographic face of California and the state university system has changed, so has state spending on higher education. In brief, adjusting for inflation, the rise in prices for goods and services over time, the report finds that California spends 41 percent less on a CSU student today than it did in 2015. This trend occurred as California’s economy steadily expanded, making the state the sixth-largest economy on the planet.

Some faculty members express frustration at decreasing budgets during a time when more minorities, historically left out of higher education, are finally getting access. “As the student body of the CSU became darker, funding became lighter,” testified Cecil Canton, a criminal justice professor at Sacramento State, at a state Capitol hearing in October 2016, as noted in the report.

The decline of state spending for the education system has spurred rising tuition costs for students. In 2015, CSU tuition had increased by 4.5 times the amount it was in 1985. The CFA report blames insufficient state spending. And student employment has grown to cover those costs. “In 1985, students had to work 199 hours at minimum wage to pay tuition and fees for an academic year at CSU,” according to the paper. “In 2015, students had to work 688 hours at a minimum wage job to cover those costs.”

Between 1985 and 2015, student-body enrollment increased by more than 150,000, meaning fewer resources for more people, a stark difference to what CSU students experienced in 1985. That earlier generation of higher education students had much better opportunities than their subsequent counterparts.

Under the California Master Plan for Higher Education, free public higher education for state residents to attend community colleges, state colleges and public universities began in 1960 with a majority-white student body. A decade later Gov. Ronald Reagan would cut higher education spending and set the stage for tuition-based funding. This method of paying for public higher education that compels households to borrow money and become debtors to creditors has become the “new normal.”

But this new normal may begin to change. “The California State Legislature is starting to understand the CSU funding problem,” Eagan says.

Assemblyman Kevin McCarty of Sacramento, chair of the Assembly Budget Subcommittee on Education Finance, is a co-sponsor of the Degrees Not Debt legislation, a budget package that aims to increase the affordability of public higher education for low- and middle-income households whose members attend either community colleges, or campuses in the CSU or University of California systems.

“We can ignore the facts showing that educational equity is declining and disparities by wealth and income widening,” according to the CFA paper, “but the price of that denial is high.”

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