Crowded UC San Diego campus could add 10,000 students within a decade

UC San Diego, a campus that’s already struggling to handle historic growth, could add as many as 10,000 students over the next decade, pushing enrollment to 50,000 and making it among the largest schools in the western United States.

Chancellor Pradeep Khosla cited the figure as one of several possibilities Monday during a Zoom interview with the Union-Tribune that came as students moved into dorms for the fall quarter, which begins next week.

About 2,000 students are still on a waiting list for campus housing, partly because the university permanently eliminated beds to promote social distancing in the COVID-19 era. The school had also decided it had been packing too many people into dorms.

The cutback comes at a difficult time.

UCSD’s enrollment has soared by more than 10,000 over the past decade, reaching roughly 40,000, a jump that’s caused a lot of crowding problems.

The increase reflects the school’s rising reputation in academics and research. The annual US News and World Report rankings, released on Monday, calls UCSD the eighth best public national university in the country, one spot ahead of UC Irvine.

The La Jolla campus also has been growing because more California high school schools are meeting the eligibility requirements for the University of California system. UCSD has had the space and desire to take many of them. And there’s pressure to do even more.

In June, the Legislature passed a budget that calls for expanding undergraduate enrollment in the UC system by 6,230 in fall 2022.

UCSD’s long-term development plan, released in 2018, envisions that the campus will max out at 42,400 by 2035. But the school could reach that figure within three years, given the current rate of growth.

The Union-Tribune asked Khosla Monday whether he had a number in mind for what the school’s ultimate enrollment should be.

“There is a number, right?,” Khosla said. “I just don’t know what the number is. So I think 42 (thousand) to 45, maybe 50 at most, at some point over the next decade or plus ….”

He was then asked whether the pressure to expand could push enrollment to the 44,000 to 45,000 in three to four years and to the 50,000 level within 10 years.

Khosla said, “I can actually imagine we could be a campus of 50,000 students. But we are not going to go there without due thought process.”

He said he also could imagine that a satellite campus would be created, perhaps in South County.

“But again, this is a complicated conversation that has to start in Sacramento with the (University of California) Regents, with the (UC) Office of the President, with the multiple campuses … There’s clearly a pressure to grow.”

Khosla, who became chancellor in 2012, said he didn’t view growth as being inherently negative, noting that the university’s academic ranking and graduation rate have improved during a period of intense expansion.

But he also said that, “I need time for infrastructure to catch up before we grow more.”

UCSD had hoped to start the fall 2020 quarter with the ability to house about 19,500 students. But COVID-19 and other factors led the school to reduce the number by 2,000.

That didn’t cause a problem at the time; the demand for housing plummeted. But the demand returned and intensified for the fall 2021 quarter after COVID-19 vaccines went into widespread distribution and UCSD announced that classes will mostly be offered in person.

By early July, the waiting list for campus housing reached nearly 3,200, upsetting students and their parents, many of whom believed the university had guaranteed them a bed.

Some accused UCSD of failing to give them clear, timely notice that a major shortage had developed. Students were forced to seek housing in La Jolla and nearby communities, where rents are high and openings are in scarce supply.

The situation angered Sam Fakhimi, an engineer from Bonita whose daughter, Isabella, expected to get campus housing this fall for her sophomore year.

After an exhaustive search, she found a place in UTC. But Fakhimi said on Monday, “If you’re going to call yourself a world-class institution your infrastructure needs to keep up with the rest of the campus.

“The university created an expectation for housing that it wasn’t able to deliver.”

Few of the 2,000 students still on the waiting list for campus housing are likely to find a spot before classes start next week.

The crunch could be just as bad or worse next year. The school is building a 2,000-bed complex on the southwest edge of campus. But it won’t be ready until 2023, when enrollment will likely be much higher. And thousands of additional beds that are in the planning stages won’t come until later.

The one certainty seems to be that UCSD will become much, much larger.

“We’re already big, so I’m not sure that things will be super different if we do get to 50,000 students,” said Zara Irshad, editor of the UCSD Guardian, a campus newspaper. “Except that it might be more difficult to access student services.

“The underlying thing students are feeling right now is anxiety about COVID. They’re wondering whether we’ll get shut down again, with classes pushed back online. People are trying not to get too excited in case things take a wrong turn.”




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