A Hidden Structural Bias

Many discussions are swirling about in an effort to try to right the wrongs of centuries of oppression of people of color in America. The ivory tower is no exception, and faculty and students are trying to find ways to support students of color to come and be a part of the university.

But what if one of the biggest obstacles is the university’s business model? Here at CU Boulder, this seems to be a significant problem.

The state of Colorado provides only 4.8% of the budget for CU Boulder; calling it a public university borders on fantasy. Even if you forget about the 27% of the funds that support research and not education (at least not directly), the state is only covering 6.4% of the overall educational budget. Where is the rest of the money coming from?

As we’ve discussed some time ago, the relatively low in-state tuition is subsidized by a much higher out of state tuition, to the tune that, as of a few years ago, roughly a third of the expense of educating an in-state student was paid by an out of state student. (Out of state undergraduates make up nearly half of the undergrad population). Updating the numbers to 2020 values would only slightly refine that. But how is this feeding into any racism?

Well, who can afford these high out of state tuition rates? It is going to be fairly well-off out-of-state families. And the main attraction for attending Colorado is the outdoors and skiing and such. All of that skews heavily white.

But what of efforts to support economically disadvantaged students? Or to focus recruiting on minority students? Yes, the university does that–for in-state students. Out of state? There was an article GG can’t quite put his finger on from a couple years ago where CU out of state recruiters made it clear that the criteria for our of state students is, can you pay the tuition bill?

So even if we managed to admit in-state students in perfect proportion to their numbers in the population at large, the in-state minority students would be diluted by the white out of state students. Colorado as a whole is 68% non-Hispanic white. CU Boulder undergraduates? 67%. Hey, so this is all blown out of proportion, right? Well, maybe. Let’s look at Black and Hispanic numbers. Colorado-wide: 4.6% and 22%, respectively. Undergraduates: 2.7% and 13%. That is awfully close to that halving fraction we were expecting. So who is making up the difference? Well, 6% of the students are international (who pay out of state tuition!) and 9% are Asian-American, as opposed to only 3.5% of the state’s population.

This dribbles into efforts to recruit minorities at the graduate level. Over 80% of all CU students are undergrads, so the daily environment on campus is biased towards white students. Toss in that housing in Boulder is very expensive and you find that Boulder itself is pretty white (80%), 10% Latino and 6% Asian-American. And while the city views itself as progressive and welcoming, the reality is that there is no shortage of nimrods saying or doing aggressive things towards minorities who are here. You’d have to ask the students who decided against coming to Boulder to see if this was discouraging, but it certainly doesn’t seem likely to help.

So while some schools maybe had a history of discriminating in order to maintain a fairly white campus population, one possibly rectified by changing those criteria, CU is mainly white in no small part because, when faced with declining state support, it could balance a growing budget on out-of-state students. Having done that, it is now a lot harder to make the student population more diverse without some financial day of reckoning; just changing the entrance requirements won’t cut it. Unless money is out there to recruit out-of-state minority students (such as in the athletic programs, which have far less of a problem bringing in minority students from outside Colorado), any attempt to become more diverse would likely land on the shoulders of the in-state students. And that might not sit well with the Board of Regents. So we likely will not be leading the charge anytime soon for reflecting the diversity of Colorado within our student body.

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