Building a Public Ivy

by Project Censored
Published: Updated:

Building a Public Ivy

Sonoma State University


A Study of Student Racial Diversity and Family Income at SSU Compared to Other California State Universities

By Peter Phillips

Research by Nelson Calderon, Sarah Maddox, Carmela Rocha


The Spring 2008 Investigative Sociology Class at Sonoma State University:
Ashley Aldern, Reham Ariqat, Elizabeth Bourne, Nate Bradley, Niki Brunkhurst,
Meredith Carey, Lea Carre, Kimberly Copperberg, Erica Elkington, Erin Garnett,
Keri Kirby, Tara Loch, Lisa McKee, Particia Ochoa, Phillip Parfitt,
Kelsey Percich, Nina Reynoso, Juana Som, Miasha Terry, Ruby Virelas,
Nicholas Vos, Daniel Wyatt

Funding for this Study came from California Faculty Association (CFA) SSU Chapter, CFA State Affirmative Action Council, and SSU Center for Community Engagement

SSU Professor Rick Luttmann Provided Math Consultation


Sonoma State University (SSU) has recently achieved the status of having the whitest student population of any public university in the State of California. In addition, SSU has the wealthiest freshmen of most, if not all, four-year public universities in California. Research shows, that beginning in the early 1990s, the SSU administration specifically sought to market SSU as a public ivy institution—offering an ivy-league experience at a state college price. Part of this public ivy packaging was to advertise SSU as being in a destination wine country location with high physical and cultural amenities. These marketing efforts were principally designed to attract upper-income students to Sonoma County.
Motivation for these changes was to turn SSU into a residential campus, increase the SSU donor base, and improve time-to-degree efficiency— all measures of success encouraged by the California State University (CSU) Board of Trustees and the CSU state-level administration.
To achieve the desired outcome of becoming a wine-country public ivy the SSU administration implemented a dual program, that included a special admissions screening arrangement using higher SAT-GPA indexes then the rest of the CSU system, and recruitment at predominately white upper-income public and private high schools throughout the West Coast and Hawaii.
The resulting lack of diversity and the allocation of resources away from the instructional mission of the University contributed to 74 percent of the SSU faculty voting no confidence in the President in 2007.
A survey of students of color at SSU describes continuing incidents of racial discrimination and generally less racial comfort on campus compared to students of color at the two closest CSU universities.

Read the entire study here: DiversityStudyPhillips.pdf