UC Board of Regents approved a $1 billion project to expand the Merced campus and an enrollment plan that will add 10,000 students throughout the UC system over the next three years at its meeting Thursday.
The UC Merced 2020 project will nearly double the physical capacity of the 10-year-old Merced campus by 2020.
The board also approved the 2016-17 budget and a three-year financial sustainability plan, which outlines an enrollment plan aiming for in-state student growth of 5,000 students by next year, per the funding framework agreed upon by the state and the university earlier this year. It also provides for increases of 2,500 in each of the following two years, totaling 10,000 additional students systemwide.
“We’re expanding the dream of going to college,” said Tom Torlakson, state superintendent of public instruction, at the meeting.
During public comment, Merced community leaders voiced their support of the Merced 2020 project and urged board members to approve the plan.
Like the enrollment plan, the Merced project represents the university’s commitment to increasing access to the UC system for in-state students and occurs in the context of rising pressure to provide spaces to in-state students rather than out-of-state students, whose presence has risen significantly in recent years.
Regent George Kieffer noted that the plan doesn’t reference a “way to catch up on” the university’s faculty-to-student ratio, which is already lower than ideal.
UC student leaders also voiced concerns that the enrollment plan will not provide the necessary infrastructure to support additional enrollment.
“For students sleeping in cars at UC Santa Cruz, taking showers at the gym at UC San Francisco, and living with growing hostility of neighbors who will not accept that students are a part of the UC Riverside community, an enrollment plan without new housing construction is a failure to acknowledge our housing crisis,” said UC Student Association President Kevin Sabo in a press release.
Student Regent Avi Oved said at the meeting that he is worried that increasing enrollment will mean the erosion of educational quality in a “zero sum” game.
Oved said that in a “perfect world, we’d all want to welcome this plan with open arms” but that the university is facing a shortage of classes, teaching assistants and study spaces.
“I’m worried about next year, when we’re poised to enroll 5,000 new undergraduate residents and 600 graduate students,” Oved said at the meeting. “Where are we going to put them?”
He voted to approve the enrollment increase in hopes that the board will work to address these issues.
UC spokesperson Dianne Klein said the university will not add students without the necessary support.
“That’s why graduate students are an important component,” Klein said, referring to the plan’s request to the state for funding to provide for the enrollment of 600 more graduate students. “We believe we cannot continue to maintain a high-caliber research university without a commensurate increase in graduate students.”
Klein said it was no surprise that the budget was approved, but the real logistical work in terms of figuring out how much enrollment will rise on each campus based on the available infrastructure will begin now that the plan has been approved.
“Many people were doubtful we would even be here,” Klein said.