How to make room for 100,000 more college students in California without major construction

October 24, 2019

To make room for 100,000 students who otherwise could get squeezed out of higher education, California’s public colleges and universities need to graduate students faster, operate more on weekends and summers and share facilities and degree programs, according to a new report by the College Futures Foundation.

However, the possibility of building new campuses, currently under consideration by the state, was not included in the report. Instead, it focused on faster and less expensive solutions.

The study projects that 140,000 more high school graduates and community college transfer students over the next decade will be eligible for the University of California and the California State University by passing the right set of courses, even though the overall number of high school graduates is expected to decline.

But the two public university systems are already overcrowded and that will get worse over time, especially in under-served areas in the Inland Empire and Central Valley, where many low-income students may need to attend college close to home, says the study by the Oakland-based philanthropic foundation that promotes greater access to higher education.

“The capacity shortfall has become a crisis. To make the demand more manageable, we need to change the way we serve students. To expand our supply, we need to change the way we use space and resources,” says the report, titled “Making Room for Success: Addressing Capacity Shortfalls at California’s Universities.”

The UC system has nine undergraduate campuses and enrolls about 223,000 undergraduates. While UC does not completely reject any academically eligible students, those applicants denied entrance at the highly competitive campuses are then offered a spot at UC Merced, But less than 1 percent of those accept the UC Merced offer.

The 23-campus CSU, which enrolls 428,000 undergraduates, has many overcrowded programs and denied admission earlier this year to about 30,000 otherwise qualified applicants. This year it started to offer those students seats at other campuses with room. Officials say they still have not tallied how many accepted those opportunities.

The study does not address the Legislature’s recent approval of $4 million to study the possibility of building one or two new CSU campuses in the San Joaquin Valley area (most likely in Stockton), Concord, Chula Vista, Palm Desert or San Mateo County. Instead, College Futures concentrated on short-term and less expensive fixes that can make room for more students on campuses, such as better counseling to help students finish faster, more hybrid programs that combine online and on-campus classes, expanded year-round operations and using available space in community colleges or even high schools to teach bachelor’s degree courses.

“We think before the state goes out and expends resources on land acquisition, construction and all the operating costs associated with that over time, let’s maximize the assets that we currently have. If we did that well, our hypothesis is that it could accommodate and close much of this capacity gap,” Monica Lozano, College Futures president and CEO, told EdSource in an interview.

However, Lozano said the study was not meant to quash the possible construction of new CSU campuses in the long run. She emphasized that the report did not include any analysis about the need for or location of new schools. Rather, it concentrated on “things that are within the capacity of institutions today.”

By 2030, about 140,000 students a year may be eligible for the state’s two public universities yet be turned away because of lack of space, the report estimates. Of those students, about 40,000 recent high school graduates are likely to attend community colleges instead. But that is not ideal since students who start at community colleges have been shown to be less likely to earn bachelor’s degrees than students who start as freshmen at four-year universities, according to the study. And the remaining 100,000 face uncertain education futures, it stresses.

“The state can’t waste that talent,” said Lozano, a former chairwoman of the UC Board of Regents. “This should be a wakeup call.”

Colleges and universities in the Central Valley and Inland Empire face special challenges since those areas “have historically lagged the rest of the state economically, and capacity challenges in higher education put them at risk of falling further behind,” the report says.

In addition, the study urged state and education leaders to look at ways to provide room for an estimated 21,000 more students in graduate and advanced degree programs in health care, technology and other fields.

The research was conducted by McKinsey & Company, a consulting firm, and relied on data from higher education systems and the California Department of Education, among others.

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