(Katelyn Dang/Illustrations director)
This post was updated May 12 at 12:52 p.m.
The University of California emphasizes diversity across the system. However, the most diverse campuses face barriers in receiving equal funding, said faculty and students.
UC campuses that enroll the most low-income students and students of color – such as UC Riverside and UC Merced – are underfunded, said Laura Hamilton, a professor of sociology at UC Merced. This is because they have smaller out-of-state and international student populations and collect less private funding and alumni donations, she said.
The current funding model allocates approximately 60% of the University’s state appropriations across the campuses, with each receiving the same amount of funding per in-state undergraduate and master’s degree students, said Ryan King, a UC Office of the President spokesperson, in an emailed statement.
King said each campus generates additional revenue from a variety of sources, including student tuition, student housing, medical centers, government contracts, grants and private donations.
However, Hamilton said the funding model is disadvantageous for UC Merced and UCR, which bear the largest responsibility in fulfilling the UC’s promise to serve marginalized student populations.
“Argument is that these two schools are doing the work that public research universities were envisioned to do. They bring opportunities to families and regions in need of support,” Hamilton said. “They’re working with students whose potential is untapped, … but they, the schools, serve these students with a fraction of the funds available to other UCs.”
Private funding inequity
With only about 10% of the UC’s total revenue coming from the state, Hamilton said it is important to look at the distribution of private revenue.
Private funding includes any revenue that does not come directly from the state, Hamilton said. Different campuses accrue private funding through a wide variety of resources, she said.
One such avenue is out-of-state tuition, Hamilton added. UC Merced and UCR have smaller out-of-state populations compared to other campuses, Hamilton said.
According to UC enrollment demographics for fall 2021, nonresident students made up only 0.4% and 3.8% of the incoming undergraduate classes at UC Merced and UCR, respectively, compared to 20% at UC Irvine and roughly 25% at UCLA, UC Berkeley and UC San Diego.
Hamilton said this higher enrollment is partially due to their higher caps for how many nonresident students can enroll.
According to the UC’s 2021 accountability report, a policy approved in 2017 established an 18% cap on nonresident enrollment at UC Santa Barbara, UC Davis, UC Santa Cruz, UCR and UC Merced. However, for the campuses where 2017-2018 nonresident enrollment already exceeded 18% – UCLA, UC Berkeley, UCSD and UCI – instead of forcing them to decrease their nonresident enrollment below 18%, the UC required that they do not exceed their 2017-2018 nonresident enrollment proportions.
As a result, those four campuses’s proportional maximum limit on nonresident enrollment is slightly higher than the 18% cap instituted for the other UC campuses.
This poses a problem for UC Merced and UCR because of the discrepancy in revenue brought in by out-of-state students, Hamilton said. According to the UC, estimated in-state tuition and on-campus housing costs for the 2022-2023 school year will be a total of $38,504, compared to $69,530 for nonresidents.
In addition, more affluent UC campuses, such as UCLA or UC Berkeley, often have larger alumni networks that contribute significant amounts of private funding, said Elysha Castillo, the vice president of external affairs for the Associated Students of UCR.
According to UCOP’s 2019-2020 annual report on private support, UCLA received approximately $683 million in private funding compared to UC Merced’s almost $11 million.
“It’s grossly unfair that students who pay as much to go to Merced as to UCLA or Berkeley get clearly less staff support and other kinds of educational resources,” said Christopher Newfield, an English professor at UCSB, in an emailed statement. “It undermines the idea of UC as one university.”
Distribution of public funds per student
Beyond the problems with private funding, Hamilton said there are also issues with how public funding is distributed to the different campuses.
Steven Gong, the UC Student Association’s chief financial officer, said the campuses that benefit the most from the current funding model are the larger campuses that focus more on STEM fields.
While the current UC funding model allocates the same level of state funding for each in-state undergraduate and each master’s degree student, higher levels of funding are provided for academic doctoral and health sciences students, King said. He added that the higher cost of providing instruction for these students – including for lab materials and other resources – accounts for the funding difference.
At UC Merced, the engineering students have significantly greater access to advisors than social sciences, humanities or arts students do, Hamilton said. The student-to-advisor ratio for the social sciences, humanities and arts exceeds that of engineering by a margin of several hundreds of students, she added.
Hamilton added that the lack of these internal resources is also representative of the race and class inequity seen across the entire UC system. She said this is because UC Merced’s engineering school serves a predominantly white and Asian student population, compared to the much higher Latino and Black student population within the social sciences, humanities and arts.
However, King said former President Janet Napolitano proposed allocating additional dollars to campuses that enrolled smaller numbers of health sciences and academic doctoral students. This year, UCR, UCSB and UCSD collectively received an additional $16.5 million on top of their funding per student, he said.
This increase is part of a three-year plan designed to increase state support for UCR, UCSB and UCSD and does not require funding cuts to any of the other campuses, he added.
Disparities at UC Riverside
Members of the UCR community said they still feel their campus is underfunded and continue to advocate for more monetary support.
In 2021, several members of the UCR faculty and staff from the school’s humanities college wrote an open letter to UCOP and UC President Michael Drake to express frustrations regarding the underfunding of UCR, including sharp budget cuts, which they said resembled redlining.
Redlining is the practice of outlining African American dominant neighborhoods on maps as a signal to mortgage lenders, leading these neighborhoods to see lower investments than their white counterparts, according to the Brookings Institution, a nonprofit public policy organization.
Castillo said the situation reflects redlining because UCR, a campus with a large student of color population, does not have the same funding benefits as other campuses that are demographically more white.
According to UC data, for fall 2021 undergraduate enrollment, UCLA’s percentage of white students was more than double that of UCR.
For fall 2021, UCLA enrolled 6,554 Hispanic/Latino undergraduate students and 1,688 Hispanic/Latino graduate students, compared to 8,340 white undergraduate students and 4,209 white graduate students, according to UC data. At UCR, the campus enrolled 8,913 undergraduate and 691 graduate students who identified as Hispanic/Latino and 2,587 white undergraduate students and 919 white graduate students.
Additionally, students who come from more disadvantaged backgrounds often need more resources and guidance from their university, so an insufficient funding model hurts them the most, Newfield said.
Castillo said that at UCR, cultural centers are another important resource, which they developed ahead of many other UC campuses. However, she added that because of the budget, they have not been able to hire enough staff to be fully accessible to all students on campus.
Amina Hearns, the ASUCR external director of communications, said in an emailed statement that UCR doesn’t have enough housing, lecture halls or classrooms for the number of students enrolled. She added that because of limited funding, teaching assistants, lecturers and student workers at UCR are not paid enough and are overworked.
“We are being treated poorly, yet when the UC makes a diversity role call, UCR is first on their list of praises and considerations for our diverse student population,” Hearns said.
The trend of privatization of funding for public universities
More broadly, funding issues for public universities are not new and result from a trend of privatization of funds that has been occurring since the 1980s, Newfield said.
The original purpose of public universities was to provide education of the same high quality to every student, whether or not they were able to pay for it, Newfield said. For example, the California Master Plan for Higher Education, written in 1960, was created with the same sentiment of public access to university curriculum and laid out the goal to make the universities tuition-free, according to the UCOP.
Instead, the UC has embraced privatization by increasing tuition costs and seeking out private donations to fund the campuses, Newfield said.
Newfield said institutions harm themselves by favoring private funding over public because private funds or donations are unpredictable.
Past public funds are also influential for student experiences, Newfield said. For example, UCLA received a significant amount of public funding after World War II, which meant it already received more government money than other UC campuses, he said.
Recent changes to UC funding by California
In the 2020-2021 and 2021-2022 California state budgets, UC funding saw increases from previous years.
According to a report by the California Legislative Analyst’s Office, Gov. Gavin Newsom proposed a 5% increase in state funding for the UC, which will result in a 2.6% increase in funding per student for the 2022-2023 academic year. In 2021-2022, funding per student was $30,549 and the proposed amount for 2022-2023 is $33,868.
Newsom made significant cuts to the UC budget in 2020 during the pandemic but proposed a large reinvestment in the UC in 2021.
However, Castillo said Newsom’s restorative funding after the pandemic cuts was directed at the larger campuses and not equally distributed to all parts of the UC.
During the pandemic, the wealthier UC campuses that enrolled more high-income students received more aid than UCR, where students seemed to receive less, Hearns said. She added that she watched wealthier UC students spend their pandemic grants on shopping or wishlist items while her peers could barely afford groceries and rent.
In 2020-2021, UCLA received $424,681,194 in state support, including ongoing and one-time funds, while UCR received $267,581,147.
UCOP continues to update the funding model based on feedback from UC faculty and staff and hopes to provide the maximum amount of funding possible for all components of the UC, King said.
Proposed changes to the UC funding model
Hamilton said systems of redistribution will be of great importance moving forward.
She added that in order for public universities to truly serve the most disadvantaged populations, there need to be mechanisms for pooling and sharing resources.
In the UC, for example, the out-of-state tuition revenue from campuses such as UCLA, UC Berkeley and UCSD could be shared with UC Merced and UCR to make up for their smaller nonresident populations, Hamilton said. She added that in order to redistribute some funding from California’s private universities to public universities, the state government should eliminate tax breaks awarded for endowments and direct federal funds, which have allowed private institutions to hoard economic resources.
This would, in turn, make the UC’s internal redistribution efforts easier, she added. Currently, redistribution within the UC is challenging because all of the UC schools are feeling vulnerable financially, though not on the same level as UC Merced or UCR, Hamilton said.
Public universities could improve their financial operations by increasing transparency with students about the ways their funding models work and where the money goes so students can give feedback, Newfield said.
UCSA leaders are briefed about the UC budget each year but are not allowed to know the specific dollar amounts that are given to each campus, Gong said. However, he added that students have become aware that UCLA and UC Berkeley are favored for more funding.
Newfield said the funding model could be more effectively designed if UC community members could decide budgetary details such as class sizes and department requirements.
“We can move back to a system in which we think about investing in public higher education as a public good from which all of us benefit, and it’s not solely a private thing for personal investment or personal gain,” Hamilton said.