The Cabrillo College campus from the air.
The joint UCSC-Cabrillo College housing project would be built near the softball field on Cabrillo’s Aptos campus, near Highway 1.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)
Higher Ed

624-bed joint Cabrillo-UCSC housing project closer to reality as state financial fix heads to Newsom

After months of uncertainty about funding, Cabrillo College and UC Santa Cruz say they’re ready to move forward with a 624-bed student housing project on Cabrillo’s Aptos campus. If all goes as planned, officials say they’ll start construction in September 2024 and students could move in by fall 2026.

Cabrillo College and UC Santa Cruz students could be moving into a new housing project on Cabrillo’s Aptos campus as early as fall 2026, now that the California government has walked back a plan to force community colleges to issue bonds to pay for building new campus housing development.

Cabrillo College President Matt Wetstein said he’s hopeful the groundbreaking for the 624-bed project will be in September 2024 after receiving the news that the project will now be fully supported by the state, and the college is no longer being asked to issue bonds to finance it.

“We are super excited,” he said.

Earlier this year, Cabrillo College and UCSC applied to the state’s Higher Education Student Housing Grant Program with the hope that the state would fund the community college’s $111 million portion of the costs. UCSC applied with the intention to fund its portion of the costs, $70 million, through bonds.

In June, however, the state changed the funding model from a grant to asking Cabrillo, and other community colleges who had also applied for grant money, to issue bonds. Wetstein and other community college officials pushed back, saying the bond issuances would burden colleges with the cost of building campus housing and that they wouldn’t be able to offer the beds at affordable rates unless the projects were funded through grants.

Following two months of discussions between legislators including state Sen. John Laird, the community colleges’ leadership teams and the state, the sides agreed to a model that Wetstein says will work for Cabrillo. The University of California is selling the bonds to cover the entire cost of the joint project and the state will pay the debt costs for those bonds, according to Laird, whose district includes Santa Cruz County.

“So it’s not coming out of local revenue from Cabrillo — it’s a great solution for our particular projects,” said Wetstein, adding it will cost the college zero dollars.

Laird, who advocated for the project to be supported by the state, said Tuesday that a budget bill making that financial fix had passed the Senate and was headed to Gov. Gavin Newsom’s desk for a signature.

Wetstein said the “likelihood is high” that Newsom will sign off on the budget bill.

The housing project will create 376 beds for Cabrillo students and 248 beds for UCSC students. Located next to the softball fields at Cabrillo’s Aptos campus, the site will also include a child care center. Supporters of the project say it’s coming at a crucial time as 20% of community college students experience homelessness.

“Affordable and reliable university housing is critical in helping students successfully earn a UC Santa Cruz degree,” UCSC Chancellor Cynthia Larive said in a statement. “We deeply appreciate the support of Senator Laird and other California lawmakers in helping us increase educational access by building more student housing.”

Wetstein said Cabrillo is getting started on the next steps.

“You celebrate, and then you realize, oh, my gosh, we have so much more work to do. We’ll restart everything to try to get the environmental studies done,” he said. “Start working on the construction drawings, and move that process along so that we can try to get to groundbreaking next fall.”

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