Rethinking Higher Education in California

CSU Impaction, and Equity for California’s Latino Students
by Daniel Estrada, PhD

A troubling college enrollment policy for California’s Latino students is the continuing expansion of impaction, that has been implemented in almost all of the California State University System’s (CSU) 23 campuses. Impaction in the CSU is the process of limiting enrollment for first time freshmen students and/or college transfers into one or several CSU campuses. Impaction is inconsistent with the mission of the CSU as described by the California Master Plan for Higher Education. According to this plan the CSU mission is to continue to accept all first time freshmen in the upper third of the state’s high school graduates and all upper division transfers, who earn a 2.0 GPA in at least 56 transferable semester units.

However, according to the current CSU enrollment policy, it is noted: “with the exception of certain high demand majors, programs and campuses, nearly all students, who meet CSU admission requirements are admitted to their first choice campus or major.” California’s promise, to qualified students, for admission to a public university for a four year degree is fading away. At this time only five out of 23 CSU campuses are not impacted by either first time freshmen or college student transfer enrollments. CSU, Humbolt and CSU, Monterey Bay are impacted for first time freshmen enrollment but not college transfer enrollments. The California LULAC organization is reviewing this problem and requesting meetings with the CSU Chancellor and several CSU campus presidents.

CSU Impaction has been expanding for almost two decades. The driving forces behind this process are a growing and young Latino population and California’s divestment in education. CSU impaction is expanding at a time when CSU leadership is promising steps to close the gap in educational equity among students of color and different socio-economic backgrounds. In addition, Weiterlesen demographic studies indicate California’s Latino population is and will continue to be much younger than other groups. The growth in the state’s workforce will increasingly become Latino as well.

Unless the state increases its investment in higher education and promotes greater equity for Latino college students, the growing under-educated Latino workforce will be heavily burdened with supporting entitlements to an ever growing retired population. Some of these entitlements include: Social Security, Medical, Medicare, and government pensions.

The Campaign for College Opportunity has noted the following information on California’s Latino population. Currently, Latinos are 38% of California’s population. However, this group is also 51% of the school age (K thru 12) population. At the same time, the percentage of Latinos who complete their college degrees is only 16% compared to 38% for all of California’s population. An under-educated Latino workforce will be challenged with supporting entitlement programs for the retired while stuck in lower paying blue collar jobs. Visit

Many of the California State University campuses, particularly in Southern California, are Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSI). According to Title V of the 1965 US Higher Education Act, a Hispanic Serving Institution, a college or university, must have a Latino student full time enrollment of 25% or more. Among the larger CSU campuses, that are HSI in Southern California, are: CSU, Los Angeles, CSU Long Beach, CSU, Fullerton, and CSU, Northridge. Among the smaller CSU campuses in Southern California, that are HSI include: CSU, Dominguez Hills, CSU, San Bernardino, CSU San Marcos, and CSU Bakersfield.

CSU, Fullerton as of 2013 had the largest student enrollment in the CSU system at 37,677 full time students. This campus also had the largest enrollment of Mexican American full time students at 10, 479. If other Latino students are included, CSU Fullerton’s total Latino full time student enrollment was: 13,488. CSU, Los Angeles was second in Mexican American student full time enrollment at 9,774. However, while CSU, Northridge had 9,374 Mexican American full time students enrolled in 2013, it also had a total of 5,159 other Latino full time students enrolled for a total of 14,533 in 2013. This is the largest Latino full time student enrollment in the system.

Although increasing graduation rates may allow more students to enroll in their preferred campus, using impaction to increase graduation rates may be problematic. An academic department, that is declared impacted, may modify criteria for students to be admitted as a major in their academic program. Impacted academic departments have increased Grade Point Average (GPA) requirements and SAT and ACT test scores also. In addition, an impacted department can add prerequisite classes for students interested in majoring in the subject matter of their program. Despite the fact that the California Master Plan for Higher Education promises that the top third of the state’s high school graduates may enter a CSU campus of their choice, impaction has changed admission requirements for many prospective students.

California policy makers are considering changing budget allocations to CSU campuses, which have traditionally been enrollment driven, to performance based criteria. If graduation rates are used as the main criteria for judging a school’s performance, then schools that have used impaction to drive away Latino and other students of color will be given more money for their campus. Whereas campuses that have sought out diversity will most likely be given less money. Equity criteria must be a part of the budgetary decisions of the state for the CSU as well as the UC system and community colleges.

Divestment, a driving force for CSU impaction, in California’s higher education system has been occurring for decades. However, between 2007 to 2015, the fluctuations in state support can be clearly seen. The Governor’s Budget Summary for 2015 to 2016 shows that the overall state CSU higher education allocation for 2007-08 was 3,264.3 million dollars. By 2011-12 this allocation was down to 2,418.1 million dollars although in the previous year (2010-2011) the higher education allocation spiked up to 3,009.2 million dollars. State spending on higher education has been slowly moving upward since 2012-2013. The CSU budget for 2015-2016 has moved up to 3,153.6 million dollars which is still under the allocation for 2007. Of course the economy has been sighted as the reason for these fluctuations in higher education spending.

While fluctuations in state higher education spending have occurred, the financing of the CSU system, like the UC system and Community Colleges, has continued to rely on student tuition and fees. In 2007-08 the total CSU revenues from student tuition and fees was: $1,046.6 million dollars. By 2011-12 CSU revenue from student tuition and fees was up to 1, 874.7 million dollars. Student tuition and fees have slowly decreased since the 2011-2012 levels to 1,669.9 million dollars in 2014-15 and is currently up to 1,707.1 million dollars in 2015-16.

State financial aid, like tuition, also increased from 2007 to 2015. In 2007-08 state financial aid dollars were at 129.7 million. In 2014-15, state financial aid increased to 636.4 million dollars and dropped down to 506.70 million dollars in 2015-16. Also the amount of other funds to the CSU has increased since 2007-08. Other funds include state lottery money, and federal funds. The CSU budget has increased since 2007. In 2007-08 the CSU budget was 4,780.7 million dollars. In 2015-16 the CSU budget rose to be 6,009.2 million dollars. This increase has occurred by increasing student tuition and fees, state financial aid and other funds such as lottery money, and federal funds. Meanwhile the state has continued to divest in higher education and the CSU specifically.

While the CSU Enrollment and Management Policy allows for campuses and academic departments to change their admission standards when challenged by student admissions, it also specifies alternatives. The alternatives to impaction may be one way to slow down this process while also allowing the equity gap to close further. Innovation in education may offer some solutions. However, ultimately California’s state policy makers will have to decide whether to invest in higher education while demanding more efficiency and positive outcomes with increased state spending.

An organization that has become an advocate for maintaining promises made by California’s Master Plan for Higher Education to the state’s high school and community college students, is the Campaign for College Opportunity. Visit This group has attempted to make clear the consequences for California’s economy for failing to invest in higher education and failing to close the current equity gap. This group notes: “When one in two children under the age of 18 is Latino, California cannot meet its workforce demand for college educated workers without ensuring more Latinos earn college credentials.” This organization also adds: “The future of our economy and the state will rise or fall on the educational success of Latinos.”

With higher education access and achievement impacting the economic and political status of Latinos in throughout the state, the California LULAC has opted for an aggressive position on CSU impaction. Local LULAC chapters have been meeting with CSU campus presidents on the impaction issue. At the same time, the California LULAC has requested a meeting with CSU Chancellor White. Also, the California LULAC Latino Educational Attainment Committee is discussing the idea of requesting the state LULAC Executive Council to meet with state legislators to discuss CSU impaction and admission policies. California State President Dave Rodriguez said” we will explore all political and legal options to ensure access for students”.