By David M. Greenwald
The ruling by the courts that could force UC Berkeley to cut back on enrollment for 3000 students in the upcoming year forced an interesting discussion across the state about not just housing—as many have also questioned the need for expanded enrollment.
But the news this week illustrates that the demand and need for space at the top public universities in the country is still growing—at least in the immediate future.
This week, UC Davis announced that a record 110,000 students applied for undergraduate studies at the university.
Robert Penman, executive director of Undergraduate Admissions, said this year’s applicant pool is further proof that UC Davis is a campus in demand. “UC Davis is an exceptional place to live, learn and grow,” he added. “This is an incredible group of applicants, and we’re very excited to welcome our next class in the coming weeks.”
While some have questioned the need for the expansion and implied it was watering down higher education, these data say otherwise.
California’s population has doubled since 1970 but the UC system has only added the Merced campus. Moreover, study after study shows the impact of a college education on average salary.
According to a 2020 Northeastern University analysis, “education pays.” And in fact, it’s a pretty direct correlation. The more education one has, the higher their average salary is and the lower their unemployment rate is. Those with just a high school degree made on average less than $40,000 a year, rising to $65,000 for a bachelor’s and $78,000 for a master’s—and nearly six figures for a doctoral and professional degree.
The governor’s office is expanding educational opportunities.
“Expanding college access is the keystone of the higher education vision, with the state supporting expanded enrollment of nearly 5,000 full-time equivalent students within the UC System and nearly 10,000 full-time equivalent students within the California State University System in the 2019-20 budget,” the governor’s office said.
They are pushing a significant part of the growth to the top tier—UCLA, Berkeley and San Diego.
But part of that is putting the vision of education at odds with housing and land use and neighbors—and that is leading to conflict.
But what the application data show us is that there is actually the demand for space. The governor and UC and CSU are not pushing for expanded enrollment in a shrinking pot. This is not a matter of watering down enrollment.
It is not just the UC Davis campus breaking records.
UC announced Thursday that “its campuses received a record-breaking number of applications for fall 2022, underscoring UC’s position as one of the most sought-after higher education systems in the world.”
It recorded 16.8 percent growth from the fall of 2020.
“The University of California remains an institution of choice for so many hardworking prospective undergraduates,” said President Michael V. Drake, M.D. “This diverse group of students has shown their commitment to pursuing higher education and we are thrilled they want to join us at UC.”
The most impressive part is not only the volume of applicants but also the diversity of that applicant pool. A college education is the key to lifting people out of poverty and empowering them. And so many young people of color are now able to take advantage of a world-class education.
Systemwide, the proportion of California freshman applicants and California Community College (CCC) transfer applicants from low-income families grew to 46 percent and 56 percent respectively for the 2022 application period.
“UC’s dedicated outreach efforts to California high schools contributed to a surge in applications from California freshmen in underrepresented racial and ethnic groups, and in applications from low-income students for fall 2022,” a release said. “Chicano/Latino students comprised the largest ethnic group of the pool of California freshman applicants (38.1 percent) for the third year in a row, a 4.1 percent increase over the past year.”
It is true that, long-term, we might see the capacity for higher education drop, but in the present, we have a need for increased enrollment as a college education is best ticket out of poverty and into middle-class status.
There are legitimate concerns about housing that will need to be addressed. The student housing crisis is well documented.
The cost of education is a problem as well.
A CalMatters article in January noted, “Student housing in California is already tight and the state has big plans to expand enrollment at the University of California and the Cal States. A $5 billion proposal would give campuses loans at no interest to expand their housing stock.”
Assembly Bill 1602 by Assemblymember Kevin McCarty would help address this critical need. That would allow the universities to house around 21,000 more students.
But the article warns that “even that may not meet the total need given how many students struggle with housing insecurity and homelessness.”
“We have a college affordability crisis and we have a housing supply crisis,” said McCarty. “These two things are really acute right now in California.”
Others have noted universities need more infrastructure and housing and compensation for faculty in order to expand educational opportunities. And of course all of this will cost more money.
But as we know from the UC Berkeley situation, cutting off enrollment will cost the universities tens of millions each year. And depriving students of a college education makes little sense in a time when demand is rising and the state needs to find ways to educate as many students as wish to attend higher education.