By David M. Greenwald
Reading comments this weekend was interesting—some seem to equate expanding educational opportunities for more students with “devaluing” a college degree. But missing from that equation is an analysis of earning potential.
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.
“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.
Should we be pushing for enrollment growth at places less impacted, like UC Merced? The problem is that Berkeley is the top public university in the world and Merced… is not.
College education is an investment in the future. And the data indicates expanding educational opportunities doesn’t devalue education, it lifts up the next generation out of poverty and nearly doubles their average earning.
But students are now becoming collateral damage in our housing crisis. Or, as the SF Chronicle points out in their editorial this weekend, “UC Berkeley students are now considered pollution under California environmental law.”
Judge Seligman, the Chronicle writes, “found that the university failed to account for the impact of increased enrollment — including late-night parties and crowded parks — in its plans to add more student and faculty housing, in violation of the California Environmental Quality Act, known as CEQA.”
Thus, “Thousands of otherwise qualified students will be denied admission to UC Berkeley should the ruling stand, the latest piece of evidence that the state’s signature environmental law has become irreparably detached from a 21st century understanding of what constitutes environmental harm in the age of global warming.”
The Chronicle argues, “Something has to give.”
They note, “Party noise may be annoying, but it is not an environmental hazard on the same level as climate emissions.”
The Chronicle quotes UC Davis law professor and CEQA critic Chris Elmendorf: “More people living in Berkeley is an environmental boon, because if they can’t live in Berkeley where will they live instead?”
This is the point I keep making to people. They don’t seem to understand. People who keep arguing that development harms the environment miss the fact that people need places to live, places to go to college, and places to work. Development is a zero sum game, the only question is where they move and how far they have to travel in order to get there.
Putting people close to jobs, putting people close to transit, putting people in density reduces environmental impacts.
One of our commenters suggested UC Merced, and the Chronicle notes that Save Berkeley’s Neighborhoods’ president, Phillip Bokovoy, “wants the university to accommodate growth on a satellite campus miles away in Richmond.”
As the Chronicle notes, “while doing so would indeed mitigate localized environmental impacts in Berkeley, it would create even more extreme environmental impacts in a neighboring community — one that lacks the public transit and other sustainable infrastructure that Berkeley does.”
“We’ll end up like Bangkok, Jakarta, Kuala Lumpur — dense Asian cities where there’s no transportation network,” Bokovoy said last August.
The Chronicle responds, “Putting aside the uncomfortable racial undertones of Bokovoy’s comment, and the fact that all three of those cities arguably have better transit networks than the Bay Area, what about our 21st century understanding of climate science suggests pushing development to the margins constitutes meaningful environmental protection?”
“It’s fine to treat ‘induced population growth’ as an environmental problem if the project is a wildlands development near Tahoe,” Elmendorf responded. “But it’s ridiculous to treat it as a problem — one to be mitigated and avoided to the maximum feasible extent — in an urbanized area like Berkeley.”
I’ve been watching this discussion all week and I see clearly parallels to our situation in Davis. UC Davis has the advantage of actually having the land to accommodate growth—though, as I have pointed out before, taking agricultural or experimental land out of circulation at UC Davis is really not that different from paving over ag land adjacent to the city.
There are those who blame the university’s growth policies and argue that the city of Davis should not have to build housing to accommodate increased enrollment.
I view it differently. I do see the shared responsibility here, but I certainly do not begrudge the university for providing more opportunities for college students, many of them first generation college students, to get an education and move up the scale of earning potential.
If that means we have to build a bit more in the way of apartment complexes or put up with a bit more traffic congestion, that seems a small price to pay for lifting students—and ultimately their families—out of poverty and into a good life.