Sunday Commentary: Apparently It’s a Bad Thing for Some People, for Us to Expand Educational Opportunities

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(Photo by Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images)

By David M. Greenwald
Executive Editor

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.

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.

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.

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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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37 thoughts on “Sunday Commentary: Apparently It’s a Bad Thing for Some People, for Us to Expand Educational Opportunities”

  1. Keith Olson

    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.  

    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.

    So all you “people”, when you’re stuck in the Mace Mess or some other traffic jam in town be proud of yourselves because you’re doing your part in keeping people housed, working and “lifting students and ultimately their families out of poverty and into a good life”.

    1. Richard_McCann

      Keith O

      As I wrote in the other article, if you don’t want to participate in our collective responsibility as a college town to further the educational opportunities of others, you’re more than welcome to move to Dixon where you won’t have that obligation. Comments like these clearly so a blind spot about how Davis got to be an attractive place that creates traffic congestion once in a while.

  2. Ron Glick

    “…– some seem to equate expanding educational opportunities for more students with “devaluing” a college degree.”

    I too found the concept of devaluing a college degree by having more people earn them to be an odd argument. I think it assumes that all degrees are equal and that education is a zero sum game.

    In fact the opposite is true. Education adds value to human capital. Right now in this country there are millions of jobs unfilled because  people lack the skills needed to fit the job descriptions.

    Instead of diluting  the value of a degree students are often smart about going into fields where there are shortages of workers. When I was in college during the 70’s the demand for oil was way ahead of supply and the geology programs were full. In the last few years the same thing happened with with pharmacists.

    Biotech workers are in high demand. Of course with lawyers the more there are the more work there is to be done. Engineers are always in demand.

  3. Alan Miller

    “ . . .  if they can’t live in Berkeley where will they live instead?”

    Almost word for word what that obnoxious HAL (Homeless Advocate Lawyer) whispered in my ear from behind in chambers a few years back, and the same can-I-guilt-you line I’ve heard other so-called homeless advocates use over and over.  “If not screaming at God and camping and pooping and selling drugs and piling up bike parts and garbage next to your house, then where?”  Yar de dar dar MF’er.  Next to yours, of course.

    You seem to argue that there is no limit and no balancing factors.  Only more is good:  more housing, more education, more people (more traffic, more emissions).  And only the best for everyone:  they must learn at Berkeley or one of the top universities; more of them at Berkeley and UCLA and Davis is the only solution.  They must be at the top, all of them, more of them, that’s better!  The problem with your logic is that you can’t have top schools without bottom schools and medium schools.  Only the top students get into the top schools (sans cheating parents and social programs, which bump out other top students to places like UC Merced).  Seems from  your argument that everyone should be at the top.  Sounds like trophy-for-everyone logic.

    The problem is not everyone can go to the top colleges.  And maybe Berkeley, set amongst steep hills near a dense urban area, is at its max.  and no, sans two BART stops N-S, public transit in Berkeley is not all that great, and biking isn’t easy on campus unless you’re in decent shape due to the steep hills.

    Berkeley has beautiful neighborhoods with bungalows of wonderful architecture.  That is worth saving, and dang straight the residents are going to fight for that.  I’m not against a few stack & packs in logical places along corridors, but to lose the character of a town so that more and more can be on top with no limit is insanity.  And seriously, a college degree is becoming passe as an only-means to wealth.  Certainly key for some professions, but not otherwise as a piece of paper.

    Berkeley is the top public university in the world and Merced… is not.

    I take it the Vanguard doesn’t have a Merced social justice desk, or any developer-sponsors from Merced, or care what the students and faculty at Merced may feel about that comment.  Who knows, maybe they would agree . . .

     

    1. Ron Glick

      “ . . .  if they can’t live in Berkeley where will they live instead?”

      Anywhere there is a bart station.

      They could even live in Davis and take the shuttle.

      1. Ron Oertel

        As far as BART stations, Richmond and Oakland also come to mind.

        Parts of which are likely much less-expensive than parts of Berkeley.

        And not all that far from UC Berkeley.

    2. Richard_McCann

      Alan M

      What you say may or may not be true, but the citizens of Berkeley should and cannot be dictating that choice to the rest of us who live in California. And I never saw such an argument coming from any of the Berkeley plaintiffs. I also don’t see any of them, or you, volunteering to give up all of the privileges gained from a college education to be distributed to students now graduating from high school.

      We should NEVER be supporting policies that protect wealthy privilege such as preserving the “charm” of a neighborhood based on keeping out individuals with lower income. Putting up moats is not acceptable.

      Merced will never attract the same level of faculty as Berkeley simply because the region will not achieve the equivalent agglomeration of intellectual interests and talent. That’s a fundamental economic fact.

      Ron G: Living near a BART station is not the same as living next to the campus. (I did both when I went to Berkeley.) Those are suggestions that fail to capture the full purpose of a college education.

      1. Ron Oertel

        Merced will never attract the same level of faculty as Berkeley simply because the region will not achieve the equivalent agglomeration of intellectual interests and talent. That’s a fundamental economic fact.

        Sounds like the people who attend UC Merced are relegated to a life of intellectual and economic disadvantage.  (Real losers, as it were.) Are you concerned that they might also be disproportionately students of color?

        Given your concerns, are you suggesting that UC Merced be shut-down, and all students transferred to one of the more privileged UCs? (In that case, not Davis – but UC Berkeley, UCLA.)

      2. Bill Marshall

        Merced will never attract the same level of faculty as Berkeley simply because the region will not achieve the equivalent agglomeration of intellectual interests and talent. That’s a fundamental economic fact.

        That’s pretty much what was said of University Farm, now known as UC Davis, about a century ago… history repeats, right?

  4. Chris Griffith

    Education adds value to human capital. Right now in this country there are millions of jobs unfilled because people lack the skills needed to fit the job descriptions.
     If we truly want to fix this problem eliminate student loans. Require universities to take payment in full for each year UP FRONT  or take no money up front and a percentage of lifetime income for anyone attending with that percentage increasing with length of attendance allow schools to compete by varying the income percentages that they take. Better schools can take more. Less quality schools can take less 
     
    But of course this is coming from somebody that didn’t even complete high School 😯

      1. Ron Oertel

        Sounds like it would help expose the true cost of college education, and probably reduce overall demand.

        And result in colleges and universities only offering degrees which are actually viable, regarding subsequent employment opportunities.

  5. Alan Miller

    or put up with a bit more traffic congestion, that seems a small price to pay

    Traffic is not a small price to pay.  You preach about so-called ‘climate change’ all the time (which I’ll call air pollution), and building in more traffic is going to exacerbate air pollution.  That’s not a ‘small’ price to pay, especially since you build it in.  So our solution here is to build next to a bus line or propose a new bus line.  But buses average about 11 mph in urban areas, and if we get them to go 10% faster that’s 12 mph.  I have yet to see those advocating more urban buses as balance to development as riders.  In SF where driving speeds are little better and parking scarce, that may work, but in few other places.  We get it backwards here.  Developers get credit for building by a bus stop, supporting city council campaigns and blogs, claiming benefits and adding a bus or two.  In much of Europe, they build heavy-duty rail transit tying into urban rail.  Development then grows around the infrastructure instead of the other way around (backwards) like here.

    1. David Greenwald Post author

      You are not building more traffic, you’re transferring it from one location to another. Moreover, most students going to Berkeley are not driving to school.

    2. Keith Olson

      You are not building more traffic, you’re transferring it from one location to another.

      So people should be happy with transferring pollution and traffic to their hometown?

       

      1. David Greenwald Post author

        No, people living in college towns should sue the university to prevent enrollment increases in hopes that the problem goes somewhere else.

    3. Todd Edelman

      Development then grows around the infrastructure instead of the other way around (backwards) like here.

      Alan! Excellent point, my young friend! Perhaps you will join us in opposing DISC, which MIGHT reduce VMT if not built outside of the Davis area — but will DEFINITELY reduce VMT if built in a better place – or places – INSIDE Davis’s 15-min zone (by foot or normal bike). YOU can grow ideas in the garden of your mind! <3

  6. Chris Griffith

    What problem does your *solution* fix?

    Simply put it would create competition between universities and colleges and it would drastically reduce the amount of student housing that would be required in the city of Davis because people would definitely be shopping for where they’re going to go to school to get a good education simply put Davis wouldn’t need as many apartment buildings.

    This one person’s opinion.

  7. Don Shor

    It’s amusing that people seem to think UC campuses are interchangeable with respect to course offerings and program strengths. Certainly they aren’t in the case of ag/plant sciences. If the people of Davis had been as grumpy and unwelcoming as the commenters on this blog back when I was choosing a college, and tried to shut down enrollment increases here as they’re trying to do in Berkeley, I would have just ended up in Corvallis. UCB, UCLA, UCD, UCSD are world famous for specific major programs and more generally within particular categories of study.

    “Where should they go?”

    “I dunno, somewhere else.”

  8. Ron Oertel

    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.

    Right – ask a university if getting a university degree is a good idea.

    Most likely, those without a college degree include a higher percentage of people who are essentially unsuccessful in any professional or trade field, thereby bringing down the average.

    There’s also a vast difference in employment opportunities (and salary) depending upon major.

    The real comparison would be those who successfully attend a trade school (various trades), vs. those who get a degree (various degrees).  And then subtract-out the associated costs for each to arrive at a net overall benefit for each.

    A lot of people who go into trades also end up running their own businesses.  I suspect that the percentage who do so is higher than those who attend college.

    College enrollment is dropping like a rock in the state and nation, and has been for years.  There’s reasons for that (more than one, actually).

  9. Keith Y Echols

    Apparently David wasn’t reading the comments closely enough.  His the long winded part of the article that everyone already knows about education and income is mostly irrelevant.  Do they have that income while they’re students?  No.  That increased income generation happens AFTER the students graduate and move on ELSWHERE to get jobs.   That doesn’t help the local community.

    Or are college towns just supposed to suck it up and take one for the team (the rest of California and the United States?).

     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.

    What responsibility?  David and many others continue to cling to the mystical magical connection he has with UCD and extends it out to the rest of the city of Davis.  David has ignored and omitted what I’ve written multiple times.  MULTIPLE TIMES…that UC Berkeley and the city of Berkeley are in a different situation than UCD and the city of Davis.  UC Berkeley is within the city of Berkeley’s city limits.  That means that the city of Berkeley has some obligation to the university to plan for student housing.  It also means that it has some say in how much UC Berkeley can grow.  UCD is OUTSIDE of the city of Davis’ city of limits.  They are independent of each other.  The city has no responsibility to UCD in planning for housing or dictating student growth.

    Now should the city of Davis and UCD try to work together for their MUTUALLY BENEFICIAL GAIN?  Absolutely.  UCD builds student housing if it is at least a zero cost to them.  Why should the city do anything less?  I’m a proponent of certain areas of the city being planned as student zones with a mix of residential and focused commercial space that captures valuable student tax revenue.  As I said before, it’s only a matter of time before UCD adds significant commercial space to service all of the student and faculty housing it’s creating and thus would capture valuable tax revenue the city would otherwise enjoy.  So yes, it’s in the city of Davis’ own self interest to come up with student housing (and even more importantly retail) solutions (solutions better than the craptacular ones spread about the city right now).   But I continue to reject the magical mystical cult belief in an obligation to UCD.

    1. Richard_McCann

      Keith E.

      Or are college towns just supposed to suck it up and take one for the team (the rest of California and the United States?).

      College town residents receive huge benefits from a state’s taxpayers by living in those communities. You can look around at a a campus town and a nearby community without and see the difference in economic and cultural values, e.g., Bellingham vs. Mt Vernon, Ann Arbor vs. Ypsilanti, Eugene vs. Salem, Davis vs. Dixon. It’s not “sucking up” as though the college town residents aren’t receiving anything in return. It’s being ungrateful about what residents have gained from the flow of benefits into the community.

  10. Ron Oertel

    Of course with lawyers the more there are the more work there is to be done. 

    There is an over-supply of lawyers, which has persisted for decades.

    Their work has to be viable, for them to take a case.

    This is one field where the costs to obtain an education are high, with significant competition after completing the degree / passing the bar exam.

    I suspect that there’s an extremely wide-range of income within that field. Some make enormous amounts of money, while others struggle.

    Seems like a lot of attorneys end up going into politics. (Which doesn’t pay that well.)

    1. Bill Marshall

      Seems like a lot of attorneys end up going into politics. (Which doesn’t pay that well.)

      At least ‘on the books’… but they generally have great health and retirement benefits, even after short tenures… and there are the other “off the books” forms of ‘compensation’, depending on how low or high the politician’s “ethics bar” is…

    1. Todd Edelman

      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.

      WHO are these “people”? Everyone I know who articulately-opposes DISC is absolutely for providing places for people to live in a gracious and modest manner, attend university of their choice without going into debt and work in an equitable job with equitable outcomes.

      […] Putting people close to jobs, putting people close to transit, putting people in density reduces environmental impacts.[…]

      This is exactly what DISC is NOT within the context of the best of – and the best of what we can achieve – in Davis. We have HUGE, un-dense areas right next to UC Davis or no more than 15-min cycling distance. This is NOT DISC!

      put up with a bit more traffic congestion, that seems a small price to pay

      It’s not just about congestion, and there does not have to be ANY additional congestion anyway. It’s about an equitable, joyous and sustainable transportation network in our city. Creating something at the periphery that’s most convenient by automobile, much less so by public transport and proven to be too far for most to consider cycling – as I have mentioned before – per the UCD Campus Travel Survey from 2019/20 does not do achieve this much more laudable goal.

      Imagine the latter – the functions of DISC in a much more than functional setting – to be like work of an employee at a media outlet focusing on social justice: Good hours, reasonable pay and great benefits, a voice in decision-making, no hypocrisy… DISC as proposed is on the other hand is like gig-work: No one really wants to do it, but at least it MIGHT help pay the bills if one doesn’t get injured.

      1. David Greenwald Post author

        “WHO are these “people”? Everyone I know who articulately-opposes DISC is absolutely for providing places for people to live in a gracious and modest manner, attend university of their choice without going into debt and work in an equitable job with equitable outcomes.”

        I look forward to a group of them gathering investors and proposing a project that adheres to their values.

      2. Ron Glick

        Its a funny thing about DISC and something I’ve never experienced before in my personal voting record. When I hear the opponents talk about why its a bad proposal it makes me want to vote yes and when I hear the proponents talk about mitigated traffic impacts it makes me want to vote no. In the end I’ll probably vote against the last argument I heard.

      3. Keith Y Echols

         Everyone I know who articulately-opposes DISC is absolutely for providing places for people to live in a gracious and modest manner, attend university of their choice without going into debt and work in an equitable job with equitable outcomes.

        This is how college degrees have become this society’s participation trophies.  Not being able to afford the college of your choice is a fact of life for the majority of people.  If you can’t afford it, you have to academically and socially achieve highly enough to warrant public or private subsidy.  Whatever you can scrape together you make do with and go to the college you can afford.  Not being able to afford to go to the college of your choice is not some life shattering trauma that must be prevented.  

        At any rate, you’re not going to get a perfect or equitable economic/residential growth solution for everybody.  Everybody has to decide if they’re going to vote on environmental virtue signaling or economic growth that benefits the community (in theory…I’m still waiting for this argument to be made to my satisfaction).

        1. Bill Marshall

          At any rate, you’re not going to get a perfect or equitable economic/residential growth solution for everybody.

          True story.  Which gets to the main point, re:  the value of a degree, formal education, informal education (apprenticeships, as it were), and personal motivation and effort…

          This is how college degrees have become this society’s participation trophiesNot being able to afford the college of your choice is a fact of life for the majority of people

          True stories… think Wizard of Oz, where the Great Oz gives the Scarecrow a degree, to prove he is smart… doesn’t work that way, in the real world… and even if it did, is it the degree or what you do with what you know, that matters?

          I think of the difference between someone who has 10 years of experience, or 1 year of experience, 10 times.

          Yes, I definitely benefitted from my educational experience @ UCD… but ONLY because I was also seeking and learning practical experience at the same time.  I know of folk who graduated only from HS, but sought and learned engineering skills/knowledge by experience, who surpassed those with degrees, even advanced degrees (they did quite well)… I know many who did both, and excelled, and did quite well… I know of folk who have even advanced degrees, that I’d think twice about before hiring.

          Educational ‘opportunity’ is important, whether formal, informal, practical… what one does with that opportunity is ‘on them’… may sound callous, but it is real.

           

  11. Ron Oertel

    Interesting article in CalMatters regarding this issue.

    But another remedy appeals to legislators who have pushed the more exclusive UC campuses to better serve California taxpayers. Rather than have UC Berkeley make cuts that, under existing admission ratios, would deny some 2,400 residents admission, state lawmakers could opt to prioritize in-state applicants and turn away out-of-state newcomers entirely.

    The upshot: Only about 1,000 Californians would lose a spot in Berkeley incoming fall 2022 class.

    The UC system and UC Berkeley argue there’s social, academic and economic value in having a geographically diverse student body. But lawmakers for years have bristled at the surge of out-of-state students enrolled at UC’s campuses, especially the three most sought-after in the system — UC Berkeley, UCLA and UC San Diego — where non-resident students make up between a fifth and a quarter of undergraduate enrollment.

    The systemwide average is around 17%. Before the Great Recession, just 5% of UC students were out-of-state. After lawmakers slashed state support for the UC, the system recovered revenue with steep tuition hikes and a greater reliance on non-resident students, who pay three times as much tuition as in-state students do.
    Also on the line: gobs of money. Cutting enrollment by 3,050 students leads to a loss of $57 million in annual tuition for at least four years, the university wrote in its appeal to the state Supreme Court.

    It always comes down to money for these institutions, doesn’t it?  (Reminds me of how DJUSD “poaches” students from other communities, so that they don’t have to right-size.)

    In any case, one might ask if towns like Davis and Berkeley “owe” their respective universities housing for non-resident students in particular, when the universities themselves are collecting full tuition. And in the case of Davis, the university isn’t even part of the town in the first place.

    Here’s where will increasingly-occur, due to costs alone:

    The campus also is considering having more students take classes entirely online, and paying for students close to graduation to finish over the summer.

    https://calmatters.org/education/higher-education/2022/02/uc-berkeley-admissions-cuts-prioritize-californians/

     

    1. Ron Oertel

      It always comes down to money for these institutions, doesn’t it?  (Reminds me of how DJUSD “poaches” students from other communities, so that they don’t have to right-size.)

      In any case, one might ask if towns like Davis and Berkeley “owe” their respective universities housing for non-resident students in particular, when the universities themselves are collecting full tuition. And in the case of Davis, the university isn’t even part of the town in the first place.

      It’s for the children, of course. 

      Also reminds me that DiSC will save the world. Who wouldn’t want that?

  12. Ron Oertel

    If the people of Davis had been as grumpy and unwelcoming as the commenters on this blog back when I was choosing a college, and tried to shut down enrollment increases here as they’re trying to do in Berkeley, I would have just ended up in Corvallis.

    Amen, brother.  They’re really awful people.  🙂

    (Thought I’d try switching sides, for awhile.)

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