Public research universities were previously able to provide excellent education to white families thanks to healthy government funding. However, that funding has all but dried up in recent decades as historically underrepresented students have gained greater access, and now less prestigious public universities face major economic challenges.
In Broke, Laura T. Hamilton and Kelly Nielsen examine virtually all aspects of campus life to show how the new economic order in public universities, particularly at two campuses in the renowned University of California system, affects students. For most of the twentieth century, they show, less affluent families of color paid with their taxes for wealthy white students to attend universities where their own offspring were not welcome. That changed as a subset of public research universities, some quite old, opted for a “new” approach, making racially and economically marginalized youth the lifeblood of the university. These new universities, however, have been particularly hard hit by austerity. To survive, they’ve had to adapt, finding new ways to secure funding and trim costs—but ultimately it’s their students who pay the price, in decreased services and inadequate infrastructure.
The rise of new universities is a reminder that a world-class education for all is possible. Broke shows us how far we are from that ideal and sets out a path for how we could get there.