How California Is Cheating Its Future

A report from the California Faculty
Association on disinvestment and its
impact on students in
‘The People’s University’ www.calfac.org

Equity, Interrupted:Interrupted:


If the ladder of educational opportunity rises high at the doors of some youth
and scarcely rises at the doors of others, while at the same time formal education
is made a prerequisite to occupational and social advance, then education
may become the means, not of eliminating race and class distinctions, but of
deepening and solidifying them.

—Harry S. Truman: “Statement by the President Making
Public a Report of the Commission on Higher Education”
December 15, 1947.1

The 23-campus California State University system educates a far more diverse student body than it did 30
years ago. But, this report finds that as the number of students of color has increased, public funding for the
CSU has decreased.

Or, as one faculty member has put it, “As the student body of the CSU became darker, funding became lighter.”

The change in both the number of students of color and the public funding for these students has been
gradual but persistent. It does not arise necessarily from a conscious choice; the decline in funding comes
amid a general questioning of funding “public goods” as the demography of the United States has been

But the impact is clear, as this report reveals. California is spending less for each student today, when nearly
three out of four are students of color, than it did in 1985 when the majority of CSU students were white.

In too many ways, today’s more diverse students are being cheated out of the education that they deserve and
that their predecessors of 30 years ago enjoyed.

We offer today’s students “education on the cheap,” one that may be considered “good enough” for them but
that is decidedly less rich than the educational experience the whiter, more privileged CSU students of the
past enjoyed.

The facts about key differences for students in 1985 and students in 2015—who they are and what they
get—reveal a hidden picture of inequity that must be faced and that should be changed.

About the authors
This paper is a collaborative work by members of the California Faculty Association, all of
whom are faculty of the California State University system. © 2017 CFA All Rights Reserved


If the ladder of educational opportunity rises high at the doors of some youth
and scarcely rises at the doors of others, while at the same time formal education
is made a prerequisite to occupational and social advance, then education
may become the means, not of eliminating race and class distinctions, but of
deepening and solidifying them.

—Harry S. Truman: “Statement by the President Making
Public a Report of the Commission on Higher Education”
December 15, 1947.1

The California State University is called the “People’s University” — and for decades, it lived up to that name.
California’s Master Plan for Higher Education emerged from tremendous pressure to find ways to educate unprecedented numbers of students seeking a
college education in the 1960s. Its goal was to ensure that there would be broad access for California students to a quality, public, higher education.2

From the beginning, it was clear that the Master Plan’s charge was to do more than permit individual students to succeed. In 1960, the belief was
that people would do better and the state of California would excel if people of all backgrounds, including the working class and those with low-
income, had the opportunity to get a college degree.

The idea of organizing a system of public higher education that would provide broad access to an affordable, high-quality college education was a
new, and even radical, idea among the states. It evolved into a plan that became California’s huge, celebrated public higher education system that
has educated millions and made it possible for California to operate on the leading edge of social, cultural and economic advance.

The promise was simple. All qualified Californians would have a place in college; higher education would be accessible to all. The California State
University, which is the focus of this paper, offered students in the top one-third of high school graduating classes a place in the public university
and provided community college students with a place to transfer after finishing their first two years.3

It was to be tuition-free, with minimal related fees, and at a quality of instruction that would properly prepare students, let them build their skills,
broaden their horizons, and generally improve their life chances.

For decades, California delivered on that promise to millions of California’s students. Today, that promise has been broken.

It is not complicated to see. State funding for today’s California State University students is a fraction of what it was for students just 30 years ago in
1985. In real dollars, state spending on a CSU student today—what in budget-speak is called a full-time equivalent student—is 59 cents for every
dollar that the state invested per student in 1985.

Another way to say it is that, when adjusted for inflation, California spends 41 percent less on a CSU student today than we did in 1985.

The specific, systemic problem we confront today is the long, gradual abandonment of the state’s commitment to fund the CSU
and the other public higher education segments.

The increasingly smaller commitment of state dollars to higher education has triggered a torrent of schemes to make do with less and try to
educate our students “on the cheap.” For example, some policymakers have pushed for unrealistic timetables for graduation no matter what life-
challenging circumstances today’s students must face.

In 2017, we must finally face up to some fundamental truths about what we have done to our system of public higher education. Demand for public
higher education remains as high today as when the system was created; but the tri-partite compact between the state, the universities, and the
citizenry has been broken.

As the state invested less and less money into our system, the universities have demanded more and more resources from our students and their
families. They have also wasted time and resources massaging requirements, risking quality as they experiment with gimmicks designed to move
students out of programs at break-neck speed. Instead of providing a system designed to maximize access and quality for the benefit of the state
of California, we are increasing the cost to families, shrinking access because of increased tuition, and failing in our duty to support the new
generation of CSU students so that they will help our state prosper in the 21st century.

Why is this generation of CSU students being asked to accept a much more limited educational opportunity? It has not gone unnoticed that at the
same time that the real dollars invested in higher education have dropped over the past 30 years, the CSU student body has also gone through an
enormous change, becoming far more ethnically and racially diverse.

Equity Interrupted: How California Is Cheating Its Future


Today, the majority of the CSU student body are students of color, and a large
proportion of these students work long hours to pay their way through school.
Moreover, an unprecedented number of students support dependents of their own
while they themselves are in school.

When we cut through all the changes in the demography of California, in the
state’s economy, in the jobs market and so on, we come to the simple fact that is
impossible to ignore: as a faculty member testified at a State Assembly hearing in
October 2016, “As the student body of the CSU became darker, funding became
lighter.” 4

This paper provides a general overview of the story of the CSU since 1985, looking
at changes in state and student demographics and circumstances, with a brief
overview of the state’s disinvestment in public higher education, particularly the
California State University, our People’s University.

Future papers in this series, “Equity, Interrupted,” will delve deeper into the state’s
disinvestment in the California State University, the spending choices made by
executives who manage the CSU, and the impact these decisions have had on our state’s prospects.

For now, let’s look back at what has happened in California and the CSU over the past 30 years.

California Then and Now

The demographic face of California has changed enormously in the 30 years since 1985, making our state today one of the most ethnically diverse in
the country.

Even though some population shifts were already underway in 1985, more than 60% of Californians were still white at that time. The next largest
ethnic group, Latinos, represented only slightly more than 20% of the population.

Figure 1:Race/Ethnicity of Californians in 1985 and 2015

0 10 20 30 40 50 60 70





Pacific Islander






Source: California Department of Finance 2015
0 10 20 30 40 50 60 70





Pacific Islander






When we cut through all the
changes in the demography of
California, in the state’s economy, in
the jobs market and so on, we come
to the simple fact that is impossible
to ignore: as a faculty member
testified at a State Assembly hearing
in October 2016, ‘As the student
body of the CSU became darker,
funding became lighter.’


A decided shift occurred on July 1, 2014 when Latinos officially became the largest ethnic group in California, outnumbering whites for the first
time in recent history.5

By 2015, 39.0% of Californians were Latino while only 38.5% identified as white (a difference of approximately 200,000 people). As Figure 1 shows,
from 1985 to 2015 the number of whites declined as a percentage of the state’s population; the number of Latinos and Asian/Pacific Islanders, on
the other hand, increased substantially.

As Figure 2 shows, this shift toward even greater diversity is expected to continue—with Latinos and Asians continuing to grow and the numbers
of whites residing in California remaining stable or declining.

The biggest shifts in overall numbers are expected for whites and Latinos. Demographers project that by 2060 only one in four Californians will be
white; fully half of all Californians will be Latino.

Clearly, the California of 2017 and beyond looks very different from the California of 1985.

CSU Students Then and Now

As California has changed over the last 30 years, so too have CSU students.

In 1985, 63% of the CSU student body identified as white, and only 27% identified with another ethnic group. As Figure 3 shows, by 2015, that
pattern had essentially reversed, with 26% of students identifying as white and 62% of students identifying themselves as belonging to another
ethnic group.6

2020 2030 2040 2050 2060

Figure 2: Population Projections by
Race/EthnicityThrough 2060, State of California




f C











50% Hispanic or Latino





Pacific Islander
American Indian

Two or More Races

Source: Los Angeles Almanac; California Department of FinanceSource: Los Angeles Almanac; California Department of Finance


When students who identify with two or more ethnicities are factored in, a total of three out of four students in the CSU today
identify with some group other than just whites.7

These numbers make the CSU one of the most ethnically heterogeneous state higher education systems in the country and a leader in many
national measures of diversity:

§ Of the top 20 most diverse colleges in the western region of the United States, 10 are CSU campuses.8
§ Eighteen of the 23 CSUs are currently recognized by the Department of Education as Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSIs), colleges and

Figure 3: CSU Total Enrollment by Race/Ethnicity, 1985 to 2015









1985 1990 1995 2000 2005 2010 2015


26.8% 25.7%


White Students

Students of Color

Source: CSU Analytic Studies, Statistical Reports

universities with a Latino student enrollment of at least 25

Given these demographics, one would expect the CSU to play a major
role in our state for historically underrepresented groups. And it does.
In fact, the CSU provides more than half of all undergraduate degrees
granted to California’s Latino, African American, and Native American

This is an important accomplishment; and it contributes to our
state’s well-being. It has been made possible because, as our state
has changed, so has the CSU. In fact, the demographics of California
and the CSU have changed in parallel directions as Figure 4 (right)

Today students of color are enrolled in the CSU in roughly the same
proportions as their representation in the overall state population.
While whites appear to be “under-represented” in the CSU, their level
of representation is, in part, due to a trend of white students being
more likely than people of color to attend more exclusive and more
expensive colleges and universities.11

Figure 4: Race/Ethnicity Comparison Between CSU Student
Population and Population of California, 2015


t o

f P







Asian Black Latino White








Source: California Department of Finance and CSU Analytics


Population projections for the state discussed above as well as recent demographic shifts in the CSU student body make it very likely that the
students of color in the CSU will grow both in absolute numbers and as a percentage of the overall student body in future years.

For instance, as Figure 5 shows, the population of Latina/o students in the CSU has grown steadily since 1985.

On the other hand, reflecting their decline in the state’s overall population, the numbers of white undergraduate resident students have steadily
decreased each year in both absolute numbers and as a percentage of the overall student population.

Reflecting the ethnic and racial diversity of a state in its student body is an important measure of educational equity for public state universities;
the good news is that the global numbers suggest that the CSU is admitting students in a broadly representative way. 13

However, reflecting the face of California in our student demographics is only part of the challenge in creating educational equity and promoting
social justice in our system and our state.

Challenges for CSU Students Today

As a number of recent studies on California have shown, the harsh fact is that opportunity and well-being are not equally distributed across all
ethnic groups in our state. The odds of enjoying economic security, high levels of educational attainment, and other important factors that shape a
prosperous and healthy life trajectory are simply greater for whites and some sub-groups of Asian-Americans than they are for other ethnic groups
in California.14

The facts are compelling. For instance, people of color in our state are more likely to struggle with problems associated with unemployment and
low incomes than are white people and members of some Asian-American sub-groups. Because people of color (again, with the exception of
some Asian-American sub-groups) are less likely to have college degrees, children in these families are less likely to enjoy a wide range of benefits
associated with having college-educated parents.

Figure 5: CSU Enrollment of Latino/a and White Students as a
Percent of All Students (Systemwide Undergraduate): 1985 to 2015









1985 1990 1995 2000 2005 2010 2015





White Students


Source: CSU Analytic Studies, Statistical Reports
Note: Undergraduates students, residents only


Considering how closely the CSU student body today mirrors the demographics of our state, it is not surprising that the challenges faced by many
Californians are also the everyday life circumstances of today’s CSU students. These realities create challenges in many areas of life, but they also
affect their chances of getting to the CSU and succeeding once there.

Economic Challenges

Many CSU students today face daunting economic challenges. Few are well-off financially. As we will see, some are struggling to get or maintain a
toe-hold in the middle class. And a shocking number are struggling simply to survive.

The evidence of these enormous economic challenges is undeniable.

One commonly used indicator for the economic status of a student body is how many students rely on receiving Pell Grants, a need-based federal
program for low-income undergraduate students. In 2015, more than half of the CSU’s nearly 475,000 students (54%, to be exact) got them. 15 The
percentage of students from low-income families certainly is higher, however, since this number reflects only those students who actually receive
Pell Grants. It does not include students who did not apply for one or who may not meet certain requirements despite being low-income.

While many factors can account for changes in Pell Grant status, including changes in the maximum income allowed and other eligibility criteria,
the fact is that the percentage of CSU students receiving them has almost doubled since 1993 (the earliest date for which data are available).

More surprising—even shocking—is the recent evidence that homelessness and food insecurity are harsh realities for many CSU students today.

In fact, the numbers suggest that tens of thousands of CSU students are struggling for basic survival. A recent study commissioned by the CSU
Chancellor’s Office found that one in 10 CSU students today is homeless and one in five does not always have enough food.16 As a result, CSU
campuses today are scrambling to provide emergency housing and food banks to help support these students.

It is difficult to overstate the ways in which a lack of adequate resources affects the lives of today’s CSU students and their chances for academic success.

Figure 6: Percentage of CSU Students Receiving Federal Pell Grants


1993 2003 2013 2015











Source: US Department of Education


For many prospective students, considering whether to attend college must be examined through the lens of limited resources—can the family
even afford to consider it?

Assuming that hurdle is jumped, students must solve the problem of how to pay for tuition (and tuition increases) on an already-stretched budget.

Add the other ever-rising costs of college—books, lab fees, transportation to campus—and pile on top the regular expenses of living, and it is
little wonder that lack of resources is such a common reason students give when they drop out of college or do not transfer from community college
to a four-year university.17

Low incomes create more than just economic problems for today’s CSU students. Financial struggles also affect a student’s ability to do well in
college. As one homeless CSU student shared in an interview with the Los Angeles Times, academic work often has to be on the “back burner” when
you’re struggling to keep a roof over your head and “to make ends meet.”18

Liz Sanchez is grateful to work three jobs while going to CSU Fullerton as a first year graduate student. It means Sanchez can rent a room; has a place to
study, cook a hot meal, and get a good night’s rest.

Until recently, Sanchez was living out of a 2005 Ford Mustang, every belonging
shoved into the backseat and occupying every last crevice of the trunk. Bed was
the driver’s seat. Meals were from the dollar menu at whichever fast food was
the cheapest. Sleep was elusive.

“I meditated a lot,” Sanchez said. “I was deeply depressed and on medication. I
used to pretend I was in a different world to deal with my separation—missing
my cats, trying to focus on school and all the while being homeless. The only
time I felt sane was when I was active in school, or in my dream world. Leaving
campus everyday to go to my car was the most depressing feeling I have ever

The path to homelessness was sudden and jarring for Sanchez, now 32.

Splitting up with a partner of six years left Sanchez without a home or the
finances to start again.

“I put all my eggs in her basket, basically,” Sanchez said. “I went and stayed with
friends; blue collar workers who were struggling to make it. After a while, it got
strained. I was in a position of having to quit school and get a full-time job. But
I had worked way too hard to give up on school. I was an honor student, and
involved on campus. There was no way I was going to give up. So I decided to
live in my car and hope for the best.”

Fall of 2015 was a long semester for Sanchez. One week, Sanchez tried to get
help to use the campus gym to take a shower, but was told there was a fee for a
towel. Clothes were washed twice that semester.

“I was very lucky that nothing happened to me, but there were moments that
something could have,” Sanchez said. “I’ve had to change clothes in the school
parking lot because I woke up late and needed to make it to class on time.”

For Sanchez, the tide turned in December 2015, upon receipt of an anon-
ymous donation of $600 from a dean at Fullerton College, where Sanchez
works. That boost was the kick-start Sanchez needed to leave homelessness
behind. Sanchez graduated in May 2016.

Three jobs and student loans provide what Sanchez needs to get by although
the struggle remains all too real.

“I stretch myself thin in to follow my passions and pay the bills,”
Sanchez said. “I do recognize my privilege in comparison to folks who live on
the streets and have zero resources. In comparison, my story is only a flicker
of tragedy.”

Sanchez is vocal about the experience of homelessness because it tells the
tale of many students within the CSU system. Though living out of a car is
less common, six or seven students sharing a small apartment is not. Also
pervasive is student anxiety over financial resources and debt.

About 54% of undergraduates in the CSU are Pell recipients, which provides
needs-based grants for low-income students.

Most CSU students are doing everything they can just to survive, Sanchez said.

“We all pay into the system and expect to be taken care of through mind and
body because we are the future. Yet, instead of investing in our potential,
students are now looked at as financial solutions to resolve the system’s
greedy failures.”

Liz Sanchez
Sociology, CSU Fullerton


Low incomes almost always mean that CSU students have to work—not for extra “spending money,” but to survive. Many (40%) are not their
parents’ dependent and must, therefore, work to support themselves. Moreover, nearly 25% have dependents of their own they must also support

Rising tuition and other costs only increase the amount of time many of today’s
students must work. In 1985, CSU students had to work 199 hours at minimum
wage to pay tuition and fees for an academic year at the CSU. In 2015, students
had to work 682 hours at a minimum wage job to cover those costs.19 That’s
almost 3.5 times the work students in 1985 had to put in just to cover tuition
and fees.

Not surprisingly, too many CSU students work more hours than is healthy for
their academic success. According to CSU system-wide data, three out of four
CSU students today work more than 20 hours per week.20

The hours at work, the hours spent traveling to and from work, the hours spent
thinking about work are all hours students do not have for their studies. On
top of that, as every faculty member knows well, changes in students’ work
schedules frequently interfere with class meeting schedules, paper deadlines,
and exams.

When students work as much as CSU students must, the hours often don’t add
up. A simple Google search of the question, ”How many hours should a college
student study for each hour spent in class,” yields a common formula: a full-time student who is in class 15 hours a week should be studying 30-45
hours per week. Not counting travel time to campus or time at the financial aid office, registrar, or book store, that adds up to 45-60 hours a week
spent on college work. There is, indeed, a reason 15 units is considered a “full-time” load.

A student working just 20 hours a week—and remember 3 out of 4 CSU students are having to work more than that—would be extremely
stretched for time even if she or he had no other family responsibilities and reasonable commute times to school and work.

With just a little thought, it is obvious why graduation rates are lower for students who work as much as CSU students do. What is not so obvious is
how they would survive if they worked less.

Challenges Facing First-Generation CSU Students

Given the ethnic make-up of today’s CSU students, it is not surprising that many of them—one third overall, in fact, are the first in their family to
attend college.21

On many campuses, that percentage is much higher. At CSU East Bay and
Humboldt State, for instance, 40 percent of graduates are first-generation
students; at CSU Fullerton and CSU San Marcos, it is roughly 50 percent.22

As considerable research has shown, first-generation students often struggle to
understand how universities work and to deal with their intricacies. This affects
their chances both of getting into the CSU and of being successful once there.
Being the first in a family to attend college creates extra challenges for a college
student; that student will have to search harder for advice about everything from
how to choose a major to how to deal with problems in a course.

Without those resources at home, many CSU students need more time with their

Figure 7: Number of Working Hours at Minimum Wage
to Cover CSU Tution and Fees

1985 2015









Creating that kind of institution—
a real People’s University for today’s
students—is not a simple task;
but the work can only be done with
adequate resources to provide what
students need.


Fatima Rios
Political Science, CSU San Marcos

Fatima Rios took the bus every day to and from her retail job at a cellular store.
She picked up her little sister from school, cooked dinner and made sure the

10-year-old got her homework done.

Rios met with her sister’s teacher and the school psychologist, who were helping
her sister work through the emotions of having to live apart from their mother
and brother, who had been deported in Fall of 2014.

Rios, then 18, paid the rent for the one bedroom they shared in a house full of
strangers. She was the primary caregiver and provider for her little sister.

And she did it all while carrying 15 units and working on campus as a freshman
at CSU Marcos.

Rios, like 35% of all CSU students, is the first in her family to attend college.
She has overcome extreme obstacles in recent years to continue her path of
academic success, not letting the hardships sway her from reaching her goal of
moving on to graduate school and a career in political campaign management.

“School was an outlet,” she said of the difficulties of balancing a 50-hour
a week job and a full load of university courses. “I could come to school

and focus on what I had to do and be free for a little.”

But that came at a price—tuition. At the time, Rios was paying tuition out of
pocket. When she had to step in as head of household, it became evident that
she’d have to find help to pay for tuition while she paid household bills.

She discovered the College Assistant Migrant Program (CAMP), which helped
her with emergency scholarships and with obtaining federal grants.

Now, her mother is back, and Rios continues to support her family through
her on-campus job, which she balances with her classes. She continues to
pick up her little sister from school although now Rios is driving.

Thanks to her perseverance and having passed Advanced Placement tests
before entering college, Rios is now on track to graduate in May 2017.

The challenges she faced were extreme, but Rios said there are many students
like her—students of color, low-income students, and first-generation college
students—who need help and support so as not to give up on their dreams.

“It’s hard to help students when we don’t know who they are,” she said. “We
need to advertise that help exists, and we need to do better at helping them.”

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