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Report: UC Riverside least-funded UC campus despite enrolling more low-income undergraduate students

Photo of The Bell Tower on the campus of UC Riverside.
UC Riverside
Photo of The Bell Tower on the campus of UC Riverside.

CalMatters reporter Mikhail Zinshteyn spoke with KVCR’s Jonathan Linden about his recent article, "Will California make up for UC Riverside being less popular with out-of-state students?"

Jonathan Linden: Earlier this month, CalMatters reporter Mikhail Zinshteyn released the article, "Will California make up for UC Riverside being less popular was out of state students?" Mikhail spoke with me about his piece... Just to get started here, can you just give me and listeners a general overview of this story and what your findings were?

Mikhail Zinshteyn: The overview of the story is that UC Riverside provided data showing that they receive less state dollars per student than the other UCs. And by state dollars, I mean the money used specifically for student instruction. And the way to think about UC campus funding is thinking of them as Russian nesting dolls. So, depending on what kind of bucket of funding you're interested in, you will find nuance and variation within each bucket. So overall, the UC system has a budget of $45 billion, but only about a quarter of that is for what we would call core funding, that's like instructing students, you know, the money to pay professors and other things so that students learn. Everything else is like med programs and other revenues from other sources. So, when we're talking about state funding for student instruction, we're talking about a portion of that core funding. So, it's a portion of that 25% of $45 billion. So, within that portion of a portion, there's variation in how campuses receive money. And the short of it is, UC Riverside receives less per student... that's on the state funding side. And then there's this other component that has to do with revenue from tuition. Tuition and revenue varies by campus because each campus is allowed to keep the revenue that they make from their non-resident students. These are students from out of state, you know, your students from, say, India, or China or Michigan or Iowa. And so those students pay about three times as much tuition than an in-state student. So, the more out-of-state students you have, the more revenue you get to keep per person, right? UC Riverside has maybe 3% or 4% of its undergraduate student population being out of state, being non-resident. Whereas some of the other campuses are above 20%. So that's a big difference, and that also helps to explain why UC Riverside gets less per student. So, there are two main numbers here that we should think about… there's money from the state, and then there's money from tuition revenue. And when you combine those two together, then UC Riverside gets less per student overall for the instruction of their students.

Jonathan Linden: Yeah, and in this story, you talk about Riverside Assemblymember Jose Medina and some of the fund advocating he's been doing. Could you tell listeners a little bit about that?

Mikhail Zinshteyn: So, Medina and another lawmaker proposed this legislation that would have steered about $1.46 billion, let's just say $1.5 billion, toward UC Riverside and UC Merced. UC Merced is also a campus, long viewed as underfunded relative to the other UC's. And the money would have been used to build classroom space, new research buildings, new classroom space, and UC Riverside, in particular, has data showing that they have a shortage of some 4,700 classroom slots for their students. So, the money would be used to create space to educate more students. And this is relevant to UC Riverside and UC Merced for various reasons. These are sort of the inland schools, so these are the schools not by the coast. Most of the UCs are, you know, somewhere within the coast other than UC Davis. And the Inland Empire and the San Joaquin Valley or the Central Valley, they have lower rates of college completion than the rest of the state. But also, these are regions that are projected to have stable K-12 enrollment, whereas the rest of the state is projected to have K-12 enrollment go down by decade's end. What does that mean practically? Practically, that means that the areas that UC Riverside and UC Merced serve are going to basically need more slots for students, right? Because their K-12 populations aren't going to go down relatively. So, there are various reasons, in the eyes of the lawmakers, to make sure that these campuses have the space. And they argued that it's not just money for the campuses themselves; it's the way to turn UC Riverside and UC Merced into economic engines, more than they are already. I mean, having a UC in the area is a huge economic benefit, but the idea here is to somehow put a down payment on economic development in the region so that when students graduate, they don't go out of the region for their careers, they stay in the region, which would be beneficial for the region's economy. Now, that $1.46 billion is a bit of a pipe dream; it was a big reach, it was a big ask. Right now, the Assembly and the Senate passed a budget that would send several $100 million dollars to UC Riverside and UC Merced and one or two other campuses, with different streams of money. And it's not $1.5 billion, but over three years, it would be $250 million for UC Riverside and UC Merced, with another $185 million for climate initiatives through UC Merced, UC Riverside, and UC Santa Cruz. So that's money that presumably could be used for classroom development and for maybe economic development as well. Now, that budget has not been approved by Governor Newsom. So that money technically isn't earmarked yet. So right now, the Assembly and the Senate are negotiating with Governor Newsom on the final budget, and it remains to be seen whether that money will end up in the final budget. I should say that historically, Governor Newsom has been supportive of sending big chunks of money to individual campuses. Last year, Cal State Humboldt, in the very north of California, got almost $500 million to turn into a polytechnic university. And Governor Newsom also wanted to commit hundreds of million dollars for an immunology center at UCLA, and the legislature didn't like that idea. So that's all to say, the premise here of sending a lot of money to individual campuses has a history; it's just a matter of working out the details right now.

Jonathan Linden: Yeah, Mikhail, you've done a great job of touching all the bases of your story. Was there anything else that you would like to share with our Inland Empire listeners?

Mikhail Zinshteyn: So, we're talking about more money for UC Riverside, and that sort of introduces this other question of why UC Riverside needs more money? And historically, as the story points out, UC Riverside has been receiving less money per student than the other campuses. Now, the UC system, which takes the state money and spreads it to the other UC campuses, does have a goal of eventually, within the next three years, giving UC Riverside about $20 million more overall than they presently receive. And this is a way of closing the gap in per-student spending across the campuses. So, the UC system is putting in an effort to "A" recognize these gaps and close the gap, but something that the folks I've spoken to have said, including Assemblymember Medina, is that it's good to close the gap now, but that still doesn't account for past quote-unquote "underfunding." And so if there's a way to make up for the money that UC Riverside didn't get in the past, you know, however many years, then it should happen this year when the state has a massive budget surplus, and the money is there. And especially for capital projects, like building buildings for classroom space, now's the time to do it, given the state surplus... is what the advocates for this thinking say.

Jonathan Linden: Well, Mikhail Zinshsteyn, CalMatters reporter, thank you so much for taking some time to talk about your article with me today.

Mikhail Zinshteyn: Thanks for having me.

Jonathan Linden was a reporter at 91.9 KVCR in San Bernardino, California. He joined KVCR in July 2021 and served with the station till October 2022.