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Saturday, July 31, 2021

State report finds impending lack of space in UC system

UC has neither the funding nor the classroom space to cope with an expected increase of 20,243 students to the system by 2019, according to a report by the California Postsecondary Education Commission.

The report titled “Ready or Not, Here They Come,” also projects a 16.4 percent – or 387,386 students – increase in demand for undergraduate enrollment throughout California’s entire public higher education systems over the same time period.

UC Spokesperson Ricardo Vazquez said the UC has planned for enrollment growth and that the CPEC’s numbers are not far from the UC’s own long-range enrollment projections.

“The CPEC study makes a compelling case about the desire of students to enroll in our public colleges and universities, and the cost to the state of this investing in higher education,” Vazquez said. “It is consistent with our long-range planning efforts which project increases in the rate of high school graduates qualified for seeking admission to the UC and the opportunity to increase diversity.”

If the UC system were a chain of hotels though, the brightest “vacancy” sign would hang above its newest addition, Merced, which has the greatest physical capacity for growth.

However, Vazquez said that like any campus, Merced cannot enroll more students if the necessary state funding is not forthcoming. The state has not provided funding for enrollment growth each of the past two school years.

“We will do everything we can to protect access to the UC but we depend on state funding, and the state has lately been what our president has called an unreliable partner,” Vazquez said.

The UC system is already more than 15,000 students over-enrolled, and requires $165 million in enrollment funding just to close the current deficit.

While the UC cannot approximate allocations from the state, it can address the lack of physical space the CPEC report predicts the system will face – something the UC Commission on the Future has been looking in to.

One solution might be online education – and the concept broached last week by the education and curriculum work-group of the commission.

“It could help facilitate student progress by providing online courses, say in gateway courses that might be inhibiting student progress,” said Keith Williams, associate professor of exercise biology and co-chair of the group. “It may allow cross-campus enrollment in courses that may not be offered on one campus.”

University of California President Mark Yudof said in a Feb. 25 meeting that even though online courses are expensive to create, the UC has been searching for a grant.

“We’re talking about borrowing temporarily to invest in some new IT systems to reduce our administrative expenses,” Yudof said. “We’ll repay it out of the savings and permanently save in areas like human resources and payroll.”

His main concern, though, was that the UC continue its mission to provide access.

“What I want to see is a plan that preserves the quality of the university and preserves the access,” Yudof said. “Speaking for myself, it is unacceptable to decrease the size of the university in terms of enrollment.”

MIKE DORSEY can be reached at campus@theaggie.org.

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