Sunday Commentary: The Missing Component of the 2020 Initiative Was Housing


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

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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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6 thoughts on “Sunday Commentary: The Missing Component of the 2020 Initiative Was Housing”

  1. Eileen Samitz


    Good article. And you hit the nail on the head that UCD dropped the ball completely when the “UCD 2020 Initiative” plan which was grossly deficient in planning enough on-campus student housing needed and UCD’s “2020 Initiative wanted to bring in 4,500 additional non-resident students (out-of-state and international) to extract the triple tuition out of them for revenue. The first indicator that UCD was going to try to continue pushing their housing needs off campus to Davis and surrounding communities was in a quote by Katehi when she was asked, how was UCD going to provide the needed student housing for all this student population growth?

    Katehi acknowledged that “we will need to build more” to accommodate the 5,000 new students she wants to bring in during the next five years, “but not as much as you would think.”

    This comment is astonishing and goes along with UCD’s continued attempts to low-ball the amount housing it is proposing to build for the avalanche of student population increases it is proposing which is likely to be at least 7,000 with the coming decade.

    Since the UCD campus was already overcrowded and did not offer enough classes for their existing student population at the time in 2011, the “UCD 2020 Initiative” drew plenty of concern by faculty, staff and students. How was all the infrastructure need and associate costs to support this enormous student population growth? Most importantly, they made clear that the infrastructure needed to be in place before the growth happened.

    However, apparently that is not the type of good planning done at UCD. Instead, they put the cart-before-the-horse.  An enormous number of UCD students can’t even graduate in four years because the classrooms are so overcrowded they are forced to say additional quarters, which backs up the housing needs as well as forcing the students to pay the additional expensive tuition to extend their stay to graduate.

    If all of this bad planning wasn’t bad enough, UCD did not even have the financial aspects of the “UCD 2020 Initiative“ plan figured out. Then Provost Hexter was quoted in the media:

    “Provost Ralph Hexter said the final revenue figure will depend on the answers to many still unresolved questions.

    But instead of getting those “unresolved questions” answered first before embarking on a shortsighted, badly conceived plan, UCD pulled-the-trigger to proceed with the “UCD 2020 Initiative”. The main goal was that UCD wanted the triple tuition cash now, but wanted to work out the “details” later on how the keep the campus afloat. That clearly is not good planning and is not working.

    Meanwhile, let’s not forget that this concept of UC using non-resident students for triple tuition was being used at a cost to rejecting qualified California resident students. A State audit revealed this abuse of their admissions practices by the UC campuses (especially UCD, UCLA, and UC Berkeley. When furious parents were complaining to their legislators about this issue, the State Assembly then responded with introducing AB1711 telling UC it needed to cap the out of control practice which UCD, UCLA and UC Berkeley were some the UC’s using this practice the most fervently. In addition, Gov. Brown made UC President Napolitano, agree to enroll many more qualified California resident students to UC if she wanted the $26 million in state funding 2 years ago.

    So UCD is continuing to try to drag its heels and avoid providing the needed on-campus housing for its wish to add 7,000 more students within a decade without having enough on-campus housing planned or built in time for their desired accelerated schedule. Furthermore, they don’t have the classrooms or staffing for this magnitude if growth, so none of this makes sense.

    UCD needs to communicate with other campuses UC Irvine to see how they are achieving such enormous success with their great planning ability and their many highly successful housing projects which are continuing to thrive and expand. The students, parents love the on-campus housing and the rents are below market rate. If UC Irvine, UC San Diego and the other UC’s can achieve good sustainable, planning, UCD should be able to also.

    UCD is the largest UC campus with more than 5,300 acres with historically, the least amount of student housing.  UCD also has $1 BILLION dollars in endowment funding along (which is not all ear-tagged), or they could do P3 arrangements (public-private-partnerships) like the other UC’s are to produce the on-campus student housing. Furthermore, another recent State audit has now revealed that UC has over $175 million in reserve funding. Some of that needs to be used for UCD on-campus student housing.

  2. Greg Rowe

    I found Galindo’s comments especially difficult to understand. To quote again:

    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.”

    What does she mean, “…it can also be applied”?  Yes, some other UC campuses are located in high-cost urban areas, but Davis is the second smallest UC host city after Santa Cruz, meaning there is simply not much rental housing available, regardless of cost.  And, as noted by UC Irvine administrators during their two most recent presentations to the Board of Regents, that campus has found it possible to produce excellent quality on campus apartments that are in high demand by students, with lower rents than the surrounding Orange County private apartment rental market.  UC Irvine did this by contracting with American Campus Communities (ACC) to build and manage its new campus housing projects.  There is virtually no up-front cost to the university, as ACC earns its investment back over time from student rents. Yet, with a 0.02% vacancy rate, UCD refuses to even contact ACC, and its representatives assert that off-campus housing is not much of a problem. If UCD administrators had attended the City Council meeting a few weeks ago in which the Sterling 5th Street Apartments project was discussed, they might have a different opinion.

    Another thing missing from the “2020 Initiative” is the fact that the initiative violated the terms and conditions of the 1989 MOU executed between UCD and the City of Davis, in which UCD and the City agreed “…that sharp student enrollment increases should be avoided in favor of more gradual and planned enrollment growth” (Section 4 – Student Population, Subsection c).  If an increase of 5,000 students between 2013 and 2020 is not a sharp enrollment increase, then I don’t what else would qualify for this definition.

  3. Jim Hoch

    If someone were to ask me which campus had cheaper off-site housing options, UCLA, UCSF, UCB, UCSD, or UCD, I would say that it was cheaper to live at UCD because you can reasonably commute from Dixon, Woodland, or West Sac. You could even live in Knight’s Landing and have a shorter commute than many people do at UCLA.  Not sure what it costs to rent in Knight’s Landing but I expect it’s cheaper than anywhere in LA within 45 minutes of UCLA.

    1. Ron


      Not disagreeing with you.  However, when I pointed out (essentially) the same thing (regarding housing in Davis, vs. surrounding communities), others immediately noted the financial and non-financial costs of commuting to campus.

      I wonder why your comment didn’t generate the same reaction.

      Of course, even within Davis, “commuting” to campus is a factor.

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