As the legislative session heads toward a close, Connecticut citizens and legislators should question why the state provides much higher subsidized public support to students at the University of Connecticut than to those in the Connecticut State University System: Eastern, Central, Western and Southern.

University budgets have three sources of revenue: state appropriations, tuition and fees, and everything else including items such as dormitory fees, basketball ticket sales and research grants.

The first two — state support and tuition and fees — are the key components from viewpoint of legislative policy. In the 1960s, the first was much greater than the second, which made higher education much more affordable. Because of pressure to reduce taxes and reallocate spending to areas such as corrections, the ratio shifted, making tuition and fees the larger part now. As a result, university education is increasingly unaffordable at UConn and CSU, forcing many more students or their families to take on long-term debt.

Over the same period, the state maintained a large gap between how much it allocated to support UConn and CSU students. In the fiscal year that ended in June 2012, UConn received $288,680,980 from legislative appropriations and state-supplied employee fringe benefit costs, compared to $219,145,259 for CSU, despite CSU enrolling more students. On a per student basis, the total state support for each UConn student was $10,468, 40 percent higher than the $7,466 for each CSU student. State bonding commitments for construction projects are similarly unequally distributed between UConn and CSU.

What is the justification for this discrimination in state support? Does Connecticut somehow receive more return on its significantly higher investment in UConn students?

There is no evidence that the quality of teaching — the primary goal of university education — is higher at UConn. Many would argue, to the contrary, that students are more likely to be taught by Ph.D. professors than graduate students at CSU, have smaller class sizes and have greater access to professors. In addition, there are a large number of poverty-wage adjunct faculty members who teach the same courses at both universities. Faculty qualification requirements are identical for the two institutions.

Figures on state employee compensation from the state's Office of Fiscal Analysis reveal that on a per student basis in 2012, Connecticut students through their tuition and fee payments and state taxpayers through legislative support invested 66 percent more in employee compensation to support UConn students than they did for CSU students. The disparity allows UConn to hire absolutely more employees per student than CSU and to pay certain categories of them — particularly coaches, administrators and professors — significantly more.

Many believe that the state pays extra for UConn research. But research expenses should come out of grants — in the "everything else" revenue category — not the basic operating expenses that the state subsidizes with its appropriations or what students pay through tuition and fees.

The UConn faculty produces valuable research, but it is a myth that UConn is the state's exclusive producer of public university research. CSU professors, like their UConn counterparts, are required to produce research to be promoted.

In both universities there is a wide range in research productivity among professors. The difference is that the research mission of UConn faculty is supported by having half-time teaching loads, while CSU faculty must teach full-time loads, regardless of research output at either university.

Tuition and fees are only slightly more at UConn than CSU. Students do not save much money by going to CSU. At the same time, UConn students on average come from higher-income families than CSU students.

As legislators consider how they can best serve citizens with higher education appropriations, they should also consider that state university students are much more likely than UConn students to be from Connecticut and to stay in Connecticut after receiving their degrees.

Both universities deserve public support. But it is time to end discriminatory unequal support. The legislature should adopt a goal of achieving equal support through its appropriations for UConn and CSU students by 2020. Each new session should then use the current 40 percent inequality as a benchmark against which to measure progress toward achieving equalization of public support.

James W. Russell is a professor of sociology at Eastern Connecticut State University. His book, "Social Insecurity: 401(k)s and the Retirement Crisis," will be published by Beacon Press in early 2014.