In the discussions on the campus housing issue at UC Davis, many have pointed the finger back to the university’s 2020 Initiative as a focal point to that problem.
In a March 2013 release by the university, it was announced that UC Davis would “move forward with its ‘2020 Initiative,’ an ambitious plan to build on the institution’s excellence, create a more diverse community of scholars, and achieve financial stability.”
A centerpiece of the plan was to add “up to 5,000 new students by 2020, along with corresponding increases in graduate students, faculty, staff and facilities.”
“After this broadly consultative process, we are ready to get to work,” said UC Davis Chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi. “The 2020 Initiative is a bold but measured path forward for our university, one that will take UC Davis to a level of excellence beyond that achievable with current levels of investment from the state, while sustaining access for deserving California students.”
But why would the university put as a centerpiece to the plan an increase of enrollment?
This goes back even further back, to 2011 – ironically, right at a time when tensions were highest regarding tuition increases and right before the situation exploded with the pepper spray incident.
The March 2013 release notes, “Katehi first proposed the 2020 Initiative during her 2011 Fall Convocation address, as a way to respond to the challenges facing the university through planned growth rather than further cuts.”
While it uses jargon like “leveraging the infrastructure and capabilities of the campus” the goal here is “to achieve greater financial stability and enhance the national and international diversity of the student body to the benefit of the institution’s academic mission.”
In other words, the 2020 Initiative is a scheme to increase student enrollment, namely international student enrollment where the tuition is unsubsidized to increase revenue at a time when the state was cutting back assistance for higher education.
I have a problem sometimes with critics of the university calling the chancellor to task for trying to create a means to stabilize their revenue.
Can we criticize the university for being a bloated bureaucracy – of course. Did I have a problem with the university raising tuition at the same time it held steady or increased compensation for its top employees? Most definitely.
The optics of such hires are deplorable and the reality is not a whole lot better.
But the reality is that the university was facing an existential threat. The lifeblood of a public university that aimed toward a quality education, that was subsidized by taxpayers to be affordable to the average student, was being threatened.
The planners were hoping that “when the initiative is fully phased in, net revenues from additional tuition and fees might range from $38 to $50 million a year.” That is not a small chunk of money for the university.
It is important to note that the initial release heavily mentions Ralph Hexter, then a provost and executive vice-chancellor.
“Our first efforts will be directed at preparing a strong foundation for growth,” said Ralph J. Hexter, provost and executive vice chancellor.
“Hiring new faculty and staff, investing in graduate education, building new classrooms and research buildings, strengthening our recruitment activities to attract the most outstanding students from around the state, country and world, and developing our capacity to maximize student success from admission to graduation and beyond — all will be critical investments during the first phase of the 2020 Initiative,” Mr. Hexter said.
“This initiative is not a panacea for all of the budget ills that ail the university, but among the many possible courses of action available to us to address this crisis, it is perhaps the one that will have the longest-lasting impact,” Mr. Hexter said.
Mr. Hexter noted that “the amount of annual net revenue will depend on more than a dozen variables, foremost among them the ratio of California, national and international students. While this ratio remains to be determined, the 2020 task forces strongly favored models that sustained access for California students while significantly increasing the number of national and international students.”
But there is also a legitimate criticism of the initiative.
It is not just that the housing was never mentioned, but it seemed to be an after-thought.
Bruno Nachtergaele, chair of the Davis Division of the Academic Senate and a professor of mathematics at UC Davis, is quoted saying, “The goal of the 2020 project is to coordinate the planning of all aspects of this growth: expanding the student applicant pool, upgrading facilities and technology for instruction, adding student housing, and recruiting additional faculty and graduate students.”
But that is the only mention of student housing. UC Davis last spring announced that it planned to accommodate roughly 90 percent of new student enrollment with new housing, but critics have urged the campus to go further and accommodate up to half of overall students with housing on-campus.
Only going to 90/40 means that the university is not planning to deal with current shortfalls. We estimate that if 90/40 actually gets built out on campus, there are another 4000 students whose housing needs reasonably need to be accommodated.
In January 2016, UC President Janet Napolitano issued a housing initiative with plans to add 14,000 new beds systemwide.
What was relatively surprising was to see an Aggie interview with Emily Galindo, the executive director of Student Housing.
The Aggie reports, “Galindo believes that off-campus housing isn’t as large of a problem in Davis.”
“So many of the campuses are located where [there’s] very expensive housing in the exterior of the campus. So students often look for a place on campus to find housing more affordable,” Ms. Galindo said. “In Davis, our situation is a little different, but it can also be applied.”
This is a community with 0.2 percent vacancy that hadn’t approved a market rate rental housing unit in 15 years before council approved Sterling Apartments last month.
Ms. Galindo said, “What that means is, although many students will choose to live in the city of Davis […] depending on supply, it could mean we need to supply more student housing.”
In the end, the 2020 Initiative seems based on the idea that increasing enrollment is a way to improve funding for the campus. However, at the same time, it seems that housing considerations lagged behind other considerations.
UC Davis can be criticized for failing to accommodate more student housing – which is a current problem – as well as by taking on 90 (rather 100) percent of new enrollment growth.
—David M. Greenwald reporting