Campuses with a greater percentage of white students in the California State University system – the nation’s largest four-year public university system – on average are benefiting from better funding, according to a recent report by a Cal State Fullerton professor.
“The reasons for these funding disparities need to be addressed as they have unintended consequences: students of color receive fewer educational dollars compared to their white counterparts,” reads the report. The research was based on data from the CSU Chancellor’s Office and completed by Jon Bruschke, who teaches human communication studies courses.
Bruschke said he does not know why this disparity exists in the CSU funding structure but doesn’t believe it is intentional. The formula for funding the campuses was set a long time ago and student demographics have since shifted toward more students of color at some campuses.
The report was published amid national discourse on how to make educational institutions more equitable and inclusive. An examination of institutional racial inequality was thrust into the forefront as a result of global protests following the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody.
Cal State Fullerton, the only CSU campus in Orange County, historically receives the lowest funding per full-time equivalent student out of the system’s 23 campuses, despite being one of the CSUs with the most students enrolled. This is something university presidents at Cal State Fullerton have tried to get the Chancellor’s Office to change for years but to no avail.
At the same time students of color have been demanding more resources on campus for their communities at Cal State Fullerton.
Eighty-one percent of students at the campus were not white in fall 2019 and a plurality of students enrolled were Hispanic or Latinx, according to the university.
Mike Uhlenkamp, senior director of public affairs for CSU, emailed a brief statement to the Voice of OC on the recently published report.
“The university (system) strives to provide a high-quality education for all students. Student ethnicity is not considered in budgetary funding,” said Uhlenkamp, adding in a subsequent email that they would not comment further on the report.
“The CSU spends roughly $500-$800 more per year on a white student than on an underrepresented minority student,” the report reads.
The disparity can be seen by looking at campuses like Cal Poly San Luis Obispo where 54% of the students were white in the 2019-20 academic year and Cal State Los Angeles where 6% were white.
Cal State Los Angeles had more students but got less funding than Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, meaning each student in Los Angeles, regardless of race, had less money going toward their education than students in San Luis Obispo.
“If you compare Cal Poly (San Luis Obispo), which is predominantly white and relatively well funded, to Cal State LA, which is predominantly not white and relatively poorly funded, the actual budget gap is like $24 million,” Bruschke told the Voice of OC.
Bruschke said there is no doubt in his mind that the dispartiy in funding is big enough to create a difference between white and nonwhite students in the quality of education received.
“We do not have a direct measure of the quality of education, but I just can’t imagine that dollars with 8 digits attached don’t make an important difference in the student experience on the campus,” he said.
In the 2019-20 academic school year, based on student headcount funding the CSU was on average investing $14,309 per white student and $13,428 per “nonwhite” student, according to the report.
“This is systemic white privilege — whatever the overarching factors are that may contribute to this disparity in funding results in privilege for white students — that cannot be addressed solely at the individual level. There is no reason not to act immediately,” the report reads.
Bruschke said to eliminate the disparity, campuses should be funded equally.
The California State University system is funded primarily by state funds, tuition and student fees. Tuition is the same across the system but other student fees vary between the 23 campuses that use the dues as a funding source for their own university, according to the report.
The Chancellor’s Office allocates the money to each campus on a per-full time equivalent student basis and funding levels vary depending on the campus.
On May 31, Cal State Chancellor Timothy White and CSU leadership issued a statement condemning the Memorial Day police killing of Floyd.
“We will take deeper action that promotes justice in its full breadth including racial, economic, health and social domains,” reads the statement.
Bruschke said in his next paper he plans to compare per campus funding levels with student success.
Hosam Elattar is a Voice of OC Reporting Fellow and an alumnus of Cal State Fullerton. Contact him @email@example.com or on Twitter @ElattarHosam.