Funding for Colleges that Promote Economic Mobility: An Economic Justice Issue

An image of Baruch College-City University of New York. It’s one of the best colleges for economic mobility in the United States. It’s also underfunded. Eden, Janine and Jim from New York City / CC BY (

As a son of a professor in the City University of New York (CUNY) system, I have heard tales of all ends of the economic spectrum. It’s a system that has an extraordinarily high percentage of its students in some form of economic struggle—it was reported earlier last year that 49% of students went hungry at some point within that month, while 55% of students lacked a safe place to live during the previous year.[1] Yet, in spite of these extraordinary obstacles that so many students in the CUNY system face, CUNY schools dominate economic mobility lists for colleges.[2]

Systems like CUNY in New York or the University of California (UC) system in California, systems that are engines of economic mobility towards the middle class and even the top 20%, should be supported generously because they lift people out of poverty…and yet they’re not.

I’ve heard this happen in New York. The State of New York, which is supposed to provide the bulk of the money for CUNY funding, has been chronically underfunding CUNY for decades. Under New York’s current governor, Andrew Cuomo (a Democrat), CUNY underfunding has become so bad that colleges like my dad’s have had to make sacrifices such as going without a registrar, cutting class offerings even as the student population grows, raising tuition, and endangering students’ abilities to graduate within four years.[3]

I’ve also read about budget cuts in the University of California (UC) and California State University (Cal State) systems out west. Funding per student in the UC and Cal State systems (systems that are also proven engines of upward economic mobility) have dropped significantly in the past forty years, under both Republican and Democratic governors.[4] And, like in New York, I haven’t heard anything to indicate that the situation is getting any better for public higher education in California.

If anything, the situation is getting worse due to funding cuts during the coronavirus. California Governor Gavin Newsom proposed 10% cuts to the UC and Cal State systems last month,[5] while CUNY is anticipating having to cut thousands of classes and thousands of adjunct and part-time professors.[6]

CUNY, the UC system, and the Cal State system are not the only public university systems being deprived of funding, but these are three notable examples of universities being underfunded in spite of being engines of upward economic mobility.[7] New York and California are not the only places whose leadership has underfunded higher education that promotes economic mobility, but those two states are particularly notable because they have the ability to fully fund or underfund education systems that drive upward economic mobility, which is needed at all times, but even more so during a post-COVID economic recovery.

Underfunding of the CUNYs, UCs, and Cal States of the higher education world must become a prominent economic justice issue. Undermining systems that give students the opportunity to climb out of food and housing stress, and towards a life of economic stability, is economically unjust, not to mention an action that prevents people from seeing the “American Dream” (whatever is left of it) become a reality. It needs to be considered so unjust that it becomes politically dangerous for a politician, Republican or Democrat, to underfund institutions like the ones I’ve mentioned in this piece.

Look at the extent to which the CUNYs, UCs, and Cal States of the world already help people move from food and housing stress and towards the middle and upper class, even with chronic underfunding. It’s truly amazing to think what these institutions, and the students within these institutions, are capable of if they were all funded properly.

If you live in a state that has proposed cuts to higher education, and you’re unsure of whether your legislator is advocating against such cuts, it’s worth giving your state representatives a call.


[2] What this means is that CUNY lifts a lot of people from the lower class to the middle class:

[3] When it takes more than four years for someone to graduate, that can endanger the state of a student’s financial aid (and drastically increase how much it costs to complete college). For example, the Tuition Assistance Program (TAP) in New York only goes for four years; if you need a fifth year, then you have no TAP, and the cost of a college education becomes more expensive:,an%20approved%20five%2Dyear%20program.

[4] (Note: I don’t know if these measures account for inflation or not; if they don’t, then the decline in funding is even steeper than this piece advertises.)



[7] Or, if you’re really cynical, you might even be led to believe that these institutions are being punished because of how they produce so much economic mobility.

Institutional Racism Series: How it Affects College Experiences

“There are injustices happening here and we will speak regardless of us being silenced in the classroom, regardless of administration not paying attention to us, we’re going to speak.”[1]

This was said by a student at my college during protests in my senior year of college. Yes, this was said in 2015. Not 1955.

The quote at the beginning of this post is only a microcosm of what has been expressed by people at college campuses across the United States: there is institutional racism, or racism that is practiced and sometimes even normalized by social, economic, governmental, and other institutions, at colleges and universities across the United States.

This institutional racism can be subtle to some, so subtle that I (and probably many others) didn’t even recognize the existence of these forms of racism during most of my college experience. But for others, institutional racism is ingrained in their college experiences.

There are so many forms of institutional racism at college campuses that, for the sake of brevity with this post, I’m going to go into brief explanations with three types of institutional racism that many colleges show[2] and that I often noticed:

  1. Descending into stereotypes of a particular racial group. One of the recent infamous examples happened at a New York University dining hall, where a menu “celebrating” Black History Month descended into certain harmful stereotypes about southern cuisine and black people by serving “ribs, collard greens, cornbread, smashed yams, mac and cheese and two beverages, red Kool-Aid and watermelon-flavored water.”[3] However, NYU is sadly far from the only institution that has been institutionally racist through descending into stereotypes of a particular racial group.
  2. Viewing nonwhite people a just a number, or part of a number. Every time a college talks about their diversity rates, they are viewing nonwhite people as numbers. Every time they talk about the percentage of students at their colleges who are minorities, they are viewing nonwhite people as numbers. Viewing nonwhite people as numbers is a form of institutional racism, as this type of racism is one where nonwhite people are viewed as not having worth beyond being part of a statistic.
  3. Turning a blind eye to various racial injustices at campus. From inaction towards racial slurs (which has happened not just at my alma mater, but at many other campuses) to a stunning refusal to confront common stereotypes that people of different races often face on campus (blacks being viewed as “beneficiaries of affirmative action” being one of the notable ones), many a college campus just seems to ignore racial injustices. These injustices continued to be ignored by many college campuses in spite of the outspokenness of many student leaders. This is institutional racism of a sort as well, as the type of racism demonstrated by institutions is the idea that people of color are not worth listening to.

Some people may think of higher education institutions as places where high-minded academia can overcome some of the racial vitriol that exists elsewhere. I challenge those of us who think this way to think again, and to open our eyes to the institutional racism that affects many college campuses across the United States.

[2] There are certainly other types of institutional racism beyond the three that I cover here. People who want to bring attention to other forms of institutional racism at college campuses should feel free to reply in the comments section for this blog post.
[3] Watermelons and Kool-Aid in particular have histories as racial stereotypes. This article from The Atlantic covers the racial dynamics of watermelons: