CSU Then and Now

As enrollment at California State University campuses has increased, state funding for the system has dramatically declined

Back Web Only May 31, 2017 By Seth Sandronsky

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.

Related:  Parity In U.S. Higher Education Not Complete

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.”


Donna LaVecchia (not verified)June 1, 2017 - 7:53am

As a newcomer to the Sacramento area, and grandmother of two future college students, (their father graduated from CSUS) I found this article informative and well written. Thank You

Visitor Fred Schreiber (not verified)June 2, 2017 - 7:52pm

When I came as a new faculty member to the CSU in 1973, my department had 32 tenure-track faculty members for about 500 students. We had a rich and varied curriculum. I just retired from a department of 20 tenure-track faculty members for about 1000 students. We now have a bare-bones curriculum with students scrambling to find classes. Some of the difference is made up with lecturers, who are exceptionally talented people. But the lecturers are only "half" faculty members in that there are some roles they cannot play in the department. This limits student opportunities that used to be much more widely available. Forty years ago, students occasionally would stay longer than four years in order to get an extra major or just take additional courses. The past ten years students stay 5 or 6 years because of poverty relative to the skyrocketing tuition. I continually have had to tell students to extend their time in school because working 30 hours a week means they simply do not have enough study time to get the grades they need. Of course, this means they accumulate more debt or work more to pay for extra semesters. Financial aid is great but it does not cover student needs today. It breaks my heart.

Recommended For You

Making the Grade

California Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson on charter schools and the future of public education

California Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson has spent his career advocating for education issues, from his days as a high school science teacher through his time in the Legislature and now as the state’s top education official. We sat down with him recently to discuss a few critical issues facing California’s schools.

Apr 10, 2017 Rich Ehisen