For years, the largest ethnic group represented in California state schools was whites. Until Latinos became the plurality in the state; now, more Latinos are enrolled as freshmen in the University of California system this fall for the first time. The benchmark isn't a surprise. The politics might be.
"Latinos account for 28.8% of the 61,120 Californians admitted for this fall's freshman class at the UC system's nine undergraduate campuses," The Wall Street Journal reports. That's 2 percentage points higher than the number of white freshman who will be attending the state's nine UC schools — or about 1,200 kids. Not big, but a first.
Which brings us to that related data point. Earlier this year, Latinos became the largest ethnic group in the state, according to California's Department of Finance. The Journal notes that the state's Latino population is also disproportionately young, with about half of the state's 15 to 19 year-olds being Latino. And according to the Department of Finance, that trend will continue: by 2060, nearly half of the state's residents will be Latino, and they'll be on-average younger than their white, Asian, and black neighbors. In other words, we're still at the front end of a rash of similar firsts.
What will be particularly interesting to watch in this case is how Californians react. Famously liberal, the state is hardly homogeneous in its politics. And according to a study noted by Slate's Jamelle Bouie earlier this month, the population shift itself could make Californians more conservative — which, in turn, could shift attitudes against the publicly-funded schools.
A study from psychologists Maureen Craig and Jennifer Richeson of Northwestern University this month found that when people were primed to think about the growth of minority populations, they were more likely to display "endorsement of conservative political ideology and policy positions." The graph at right shows the results from people from the West Census region — which includes California. When reminded of ongoing changes in America's racial makeup, there was a substantial shift in responses to policy questions.
The University of California's budget allocations are a constant source of political tension, prompting, among other things, this list of "myths and facts" about their funding. The perception that it's a massive well-funded behemoth has consistently worked against it. Add to that the reaction of California voters — who are still disproportionately white, particularly among likely voters — and the UC Board of Regents would be justified in feeling nervous about upcoming budget votes.
Simply saying "it's inevitable!" probably won't work. At least not until 2060, at which the inevitability will have come to fruition.