The University of California, facing a record surge in applications, could increase the number of places for California students by up to 33,000 by 2030 — the equivalent of building a new campus.
At least half of the growth would occur at the UC system’s most popular campuses — UCLA, UC Berkeley, and UC San Diego — in part by reducing the number of foreign and international students and giving those places to Californians.
UC does not plan to build a new campus due to time and cost constraints. However, the system’s nine undergraduate campuses are working on plans to allow for increased enrollment with more online classes, summer offerings, off-campus programs, potential satellite locations, and additional support to help students graduate faster, thereby places would become available.
The ambitious goals were unveiled at this week’s UC Board of Regents meeting in San Francisco and represent a 50% increase over UC’s previously announced plan to increase enrollment by more than 20,000 by 2030. The lower target has secured multi-year funding commitments from the state, but UC President Michael V. Drake noted that the higher “ambitious” target of 33,000 will require additional resources for more faculties, classrooms, teaching labs, dormitories and support services.
“Our goal throughout has been to grow in ways that serve the state of California and meet its future educational and workforce needs while serving each of the communities we call home,” Drake told Regents this week .
At least one state congressman said he’s embracing the higher goal: Congressman Kevin McCarty (D-Sacramento), chairman of an Assembly subcommittee on education funding who has long pushed UC to increase seats for California students.
One way to do that is to replace some foreign and international students with California residents, a process UCLA, UC Berkeley and UC San Diego started this year with increased government support to help offset the loss of higher tuition , which non-residents pay. McCarty said he and his lawmakers are “very open” to funding a continued reduction in the number of nonresident students to just 10% of undergraduate enrollment — the system-wide average is now about 18%, with UCLA, UC Berkeley and UC San Diego at about 24%.
“This is music to my ears,” McCarty said of UC’s enrollment goals. “That’s exactly what we’ve been pushing for for the last five, ten years — to improve access for top-performing California students. This is the top priority for the legislator.”
The expanded enrollment schedule comes as UC applications have hit record highs. The system’s nine undergraduate campuses received nearly 211,000 first-year applications in fall 2022, a 3.5% increase from the previous year as the elimination of standardized testing requirements and greater online reach paid off by providing the largest and most diverse pool of applicants attracted at all times.
UC detailed its enrollment plan in an 88-page report, which said the system’s growth should be “deliberately” planned to increase graduation rates, close equality gaps, reflect the state’s diversity and underserved areas such as the Inland Empire and San Joaquin Valley, and meet government workforce needs in healthcare, education, science and technology.
Each campus has different capacities and growth strategies.
UCLA and UC Berkeley, for example, have physical space limitations and must attempt to increase student numbers without bringing more people onto campus. In a presentation to the Regents, UCLA Chancellor Gene Block said the school is exploring programs off campus in Los Angeles and at satellite locations that could accommodate 600 to 1,000 more students. One potential satellite site is in San Pedro, where UCLA is already working with AltaSea, a public-private marine science company.
UC Berkeley is also considering a satellite program at Moffett Field, owned by NASA, that would focus on aerospace science and engineering. The campus has agreed to cap growth in undergraduate students to 1% annually as part of its long-term development plan after opposition from the city and neighbors to increasing student numbers in the community.
UC Davis is building Aggie Square, an “innovation hub” on its Sacramento campus that will include science and technology buildings and dormitories. The campus estimates that a few hundred students can spend a quarter there.
Campuses are also hoping to enroll more students in summer courses, which saw a significant increase in enrollment across the UC system in 2020 and 2021 — particularly at UC Santa Cruz.
At UCLA, Block said a more robust summer quarter could potentially enroll an additional 2,000 students. And another 300 spots could open as students graduate faster, he said, adding that the campus has expanded support services — including the Black Bruins Resource Center that opened last year and expanded programs for Latinos, Native Americans and Pacific Islanders .
“I’m really confident that UCLA, as crowded as it is, can grow,” Block said.
UC Merced and UC Riverside estimate that together they can achieve about one-third of the projected growth.
UC Merced Chancellor Juan Sánchez Muñoz told Regents its Central Valley campus, which has completed a $1.2 billion expansion project with new student housing, classrooms, research labs and wellness facilities, can accommodate 2,000 more students. A new medical education program at UC Merced is slated to open next year, which will have the capacity to train 200 graduate students to bring healthcare to the underserved region.
UC Riverside also has land to grow and is looking to increase its current enrollment from 28,000 to approximately 35,000 by 2035 as part of its long-term development plan. But the Inland Empire campus lacks the faculty, staff and classroom space to serve its current students, and would need a significant funding boost to serve more, university leaders say.
The system-wide capacity plan also includes an expansion of online courses.
Before the pandemic, relatively few UC students were taking an online class — just 6% in fall 2019, according to the report, compared to 39% at California State University. The emergency distance courses hastily put together at the beginning of the pandemic were widespread; In a 2020 survey, 60% of students who had previously taken a course specifically geared towards online consumption said the remote offerings were worse. But as faculty improved the quality of their online courses, 57% of people surveyed by the Academic Senate in Spring 2021 said their interest in online teaching had increased or remained high. Some campuses are expanding these offerings, most notably UC Irvine.
About a quarter to a third of the proposed increase in California seats would go to graduate students needed to expand UC’s research capacity, teach elementary school classes, fill a pipeline for future professors, and meet the state’s workforce needs. UC lags behind other top research institutions in the share of graduate students in total enrollments, the capacity report said.
But enrollment growth won’t come cheap. To expand access for the proposed goal of 23,000 more students, UC would seek approximately $324 million in government funding. This amount is consistent with the contract forged between Gov. Gavin Newsom and the university system for a multi-year commitment to a 5% annual increase in funding in exchange for agreements, some of which called for an increase in enrollment and closing of equity shortfalls.
Meeting the larger goal of 33,000 students would require an additional $114 million in government support for enrollment growth, according to UC.
Billions more would be needed to build, repair and maintain facilities.
But Drake and the system’s 10 chancellors said they were determined to grow to “best serve California’s interests.”
“The university has a responsibility to educate the next generation of physicians and nurses, judges and attorneys, business leaders, elected officials, researchers and faculty — those who reflect California,” they wrote in a letter accompanying the report. “We know that there is a great demand for a UC education.”