Sunday Commentary: Prisons Over Colleges Has Implications for Housing Issues Too

Ryder Apartments just opened in Davis last fall

By David M. Greenwald
Executive Editor

Yesterday’s column pointed out that, since the 1970s, funding priorities have shifted away from higher education and toward funding prisons.

One piece of data that jumped out at me was this—between 1979 and 1994, when the spending for prison finally passed spending for higher education, California only opened one university campus.  (Since 1994 only two CSUs and one UC have opened).

Despite the fact that from 1979 to 1994, enrollment increased 50 percent for UC and CSU, the number of new campuses that opened was very small.  During the same time, however, 19 new prisons opened.

The reality is that the state’s priorities have flipped.  In 1979, 18 percent of our budget went to higher education, by 2021-22, it was 1.4 percent.  You can argue that it was a simple one to one choice, understood.  But if budgets are the statement of our priorities and our values, nothing screams louder than this.

But one thing I have been thinking about since I started pouring over this data—our focus on prisons has implications beyond just the criminal justice system.

In 1979 for example, there were just over 18,000 students enrolled at UC Davis.  By the time, I got there in 1996 it was 23,000.  By the fall, it could be over 40,000.

That means in just over 40 years, UC Davis has more than doubled its enrollment.  One of the biggest issues locally has been student housing.  Critics have pointed out that student housing has driven city housing shortages.  And they have a point.

Up until the recent LRDP cycle, the university was only housing about 29 percent of its student enrollment on campus.  That means as the university has steadily increased its enrollment, more and more students have been pushed into the community.

That has caused problems—something I think everything has agreed on.  It has meant a lack of apartment vacancies, escalating rental costs, and more students jamming into smaller dwelling units.  Ultimately the city has added several major student housing projects since 2016 while the university has added housing capacity—though some would argue, short of what they need to.

UC Davis may have grown more than many universities over the last several decades, but a similar story can be told across the board, and the reason for that is simple; enrollment has gone up and the number of college campuses has been relatively flat.

I am very strongly supportive of the mission of the universities in California.  College degrees are a ticket out of poverty and into middle class status.  Even UC Davis, located in a relatively homogeneous community like Davis, now boasts a tremendously diverse student body, serving scores of first-generation college students.

Data shows a widening gulf between the income for those with a college degree and those with only a high school degree.

But this growth comes with a cost and the funding of prisons comes with a big cost.  The cost of education has skyrocketed.  I remember what I paid my first quarter at Cal Poly in 1991.  By the end of my time there, costs had gone way up.  They are now even higher and many students are saddled with increasing amounts of college debt.

But perhaps even more than that, by failing to invest in higher education, we have also pushed enrollment growth into existing university campuses.  That means at a place like UC Davis, even with additional housing being added at UC Davis on campus, 20,000 students will be living off campus—more than the total enrollment in 1979.

Imagine if the state had added 19 new campuses instead of pushing enrollment growth on existing campuses.  Imagine if Davis were still at 23,000 as they were when I started Graduate School in 1996.  We might not have a student housing crisis, because the growth would have been such that it would have been easy for existing campuses and communities to absorb.

Some might argue that the real problem is that the state has been willing to house those incarcerated rather than college students.  That’s certainly one way to look at it.

But I think my bigger point is by forcing enrollment growth onto existing campuses rather than unto new campuses, it has created a housing problem because existing communities and college campuses both have to strain to find new housing rather than building new facilities that will be able to accommodate their own housing needs.

To put it another way, if we were still at 23,000, it wouldn’t matter much what percentage were on campus, because the student population wouldn’t have changed.  It is the change, the increase year over year, that generates growth pressure, not the raw total.

Housing is a critical issue, but accommodating enrollment growth with new housing has proven tricky—and not just at UC Davis, but systemwide.  There is a housing security issue for students across the entire system, including at the community colleges.  Part of that problem seems to be attributable to failure of the state to continue to invest in higher education as it invests in prisons.

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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5 Comments

  1. Ron Glick

    “But I think my bigger point is by forcing enrollment growth onto existing campuses rather than unto new campuses, it has created a housing problem because existing communities and college campuses both have to strain to find new housing rather than building new facilities that will be able to accommodate their own housing needs.”

    You left out a more important shift. Before this century Davis built housing to accommodate the needs of UC growth. Most housing, except for freshmen, was built in the city. With the ascension of anti-growth sentiments and Measure J that construction in the city stopped and eventually shifted to UC. UC has been adding more on campus housing in the last few years but in the intervening years little housing got built, enrollment continued to increase, vacancy rates plummeted, and rents have risen dramatically.

  2. Ron Oertel

    From article, above:  The reality is that the state’s priorities have flipped.  In 1979, 18 percent of our budget went to higher education, by 2021-22, it was 1.4 percent.  You can argue that it was a simple one to one choice, understood.  But if budgets are the statement of our priorities and our values, nothing screams louder than this.

    From source, below:

    California spends 12% of its General Fund on higher education.

    Higher education is the third largest General Fund expenditure, after K–12 education and health and human services. The majority ($12.3 billion) of this funding is divided among the three public higher education systems: the University of California (UC), California State University (CSU), and the California Community Colleges (CCC).

    Over the past 20 years, tuition has tripled at both UC and CSU. However, the state financial aid system (Cal Grants), combined with federal and institutional aid, pays the tuition of more than half of the 674,015 full-time-equivalent students in 2016–17. A majority (55%) of UC students and about half (51%) of CSU students pay no tuition. Though both systems have kept tuition flat during the recovery from the Great Recession, each system has proposed to raise tuition in 2017–18—the first increase since 2010.

    Proposition 98 has shifted state higher education funding toward the community colleges.

    Proposition 98 (enacted in 1988) requires that a minimum share of the state budget be allocated to K–14 education; community colleges usually receive around 11% of this funding. Before the passage of Proposition 98, each higher education system received a roughly equal percentage of state funding. By 2015–16, the UC and CSU systems were sharing about 40% of the state funding, while 60% was allocated to the community colleges.

    https://www.ppic.org/publication/higher-education-funding-in-california/

     

    1. Ron Oertel

      Although the “fact sheet” above is from 2017, is David claiming that funding for higher education dropped from 12% to 1.4% over the course of the last 5 years?  (He hasn’t provided any link which would verify this.)

  3. Ron Oertel

    The Budget includes total funding of $41.6 billion ($28.6 billion General Fund and local property tax and $13 billion other funds) for all higher education entities in 2022-23.”

    (In other words, the state is spending approximately 10 times more for higher education than the $4.2 billion that David claimed in yesterday’s article.)

    The Budget includes total funding of $14 billion ($13.4 billion General Fund and $603.2 million other funds) for CDCR in 2022‐23. Of this amount, $3.7 billion General Fund is for health care programs, which provide incarcerated individuals with access to mental health, medical, and dental care services that are consistent with the standards and scope of care appropriate within a custodial environment.”

    (In other words, the state is spending 3 times more on higher education, than it is on prisons.)

    https://www.ebudget.ca.gov/FullBudgetSummary.pdf

  4. Richard_McCann

    There’s two models to successful research universities, of which UC is the most successful public university the world. The first model is exemplified by Harvard–pay top dollar to to attract the most successful senior faculty in the world and keep the university enrollment very select. This approach is very expensive as shown by Harvard’s endowment of over $50 billion. (https://www.thecrimson.com/article/2021/10/25/goldman-harvard-endowment/) Harvard has about 5,200 undergrads. (https://www.usnews.com/best-colleges/harvard-university-2155)

    The second approach is create a deep agglomeration of researchers who work with each other and younger faculty are mentored to rise through the ranks. Many more students are enrolled. The UC endowment in total is only $19B (https://regents.universityofcalifornia.edu/regmeet/sept21/i1.pdf) for a system with 280,000 students (https://www.universityofcalifornia.edu/about-us). The Big 10 and Pac 12 schools generally follow this model as well as the UCs. Smaller state colleges don’t foster the same researcher interaction. This is one of the reasons that faculty recruitment has lagged at the Merced and Riverside campuses in particular.

    On the other hand, the California State Universities have used the dispersed campus paradigm. That controls campus size but doesn’t foster the same research environment. Departments are smaller and faculty have a different focus, less so on research.

    Each university system has its mission, which is different. The UC mission shouldn’t be the same as CSU.

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