Quality of UC education being compromised by increased enrollment
The University of California (UC) Board of Regents approved UC President Janet Napolitano’s plan last fall to increase enrollment of California undergraduates in the UC system by 10,000 over the next three years. The plan, part of the deal that Napolitano made with the California State Legislature to enroll more California students in exchange for more state money, will present logistical challenges for all UC campuses.
9,500 new undergraduate students enrolled at UC Davis this fall, a 1,100-student increase from last year. While the Editorial Board agrees that increasing access to UC Davis is in line with a public university’s mission of providing education to all, the truth is that our campus is woefully unequipped to handle this influx of new students.
There is not nearly enough bike or vehicle parking, lecture hall space is so limited that classes are being held in the Mondavi Center or the ARC and crucial resources like Student Health and Counseling Services and the Financial Aid office are understaffed. This overcrowding has a negative impact on the quality of our education. When classes are held at the far-off Medical Sciences building, some students may not be physically able to go to class. When students have to wait an extended period of time to schedule an appointment with a counselor, they are at risk of growing disheartened and not seeking help at all.
The campus has taken measures to try to make this transition as smooth as possible: new student housing is being built in the Tercero Residence Hall, construction of a new International Center concluded this summer and the newly built Ann E. Pitzer Center will function as both a recital space and lecture hall. But for every new building, there seems to be another unfinished construction project on campus disrupting student life. And when new students start searching for off-campus housing in January, the bump in enrollment means that there will be 1,100 more students looking for affordable housing in an already-crowded market with a vacancy rate lower than one percent.
This is not a problem unique to Davis. Campuses across the UC system are straining to accommodate the wave of new students. At UCLA, triple occupancy rooms now account for 73 percent of all student housing, and the Westwood campus is quickly running out of room for expansion. Because of the lack of student housing at UC Berkeley, some students are being housed at Mills College in Oakland — a 25-minute shuttle ride away.
Increasing enrollment in exchange for funding is not a permanent or sustainable solution. Campuses can’t just keep increasing their enrollment numbers in exchange for the funding they so desperately need. Instead, the Editorial Board believes that the state must make funding the UC through state funds a priority.
State funding of the UC has plummeted over the past 30 years while student tuition has increased dramatically. The graph below, taken from a 2014 UC regents meeting, illustrates that the state’s share of expenditures for education has dropped by 54 percent since 1990-91 while student share has more than tripled.
The UC is overcrowded and underfunded, and the quality of a UC education is compromised. This increase of new students will not fix the problem that has been developing over the past 30 years; the real solution is for the state to start investing more seriously in public education.