Explainer: What is UCSC’s plan to add 8,500 more students by 2040? And where will they all live?

A student talks on the phone on the UC Santa Cruz campus.
A student talks on the phone on the UC Santa Cruz campus.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Lookout breaks down UC Santa Cruz’s Long Range Development Plan, the document that lays out how the university envisions developing its physical infrastructure and growing its student enrollment through 2040, plus the history of campus growth and community opposition.

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City of Santa Cruz and UC Santa Cruz officials are locked in litigation over the university’s enrollment expansion plans and whether the university can be compelled to house all of those new students.

In this explainer, Lookout describes what UCSC’s Long Range Development Plan is, the number of student beds the university has in the pipeline from its approved projects and where the university envisions it can build new projects in order to house the new students it plans to enroll through 2040.

What is UCSC’s Long Range Development Plan?

The Long Range Development Plan (LRDP) lays out how the university envisions developing its physical infrastructure and growing its student enrollment through 2040. The University of California Board of Regents approved the plan in 2021 after months of community input.

The 2021 LRDP projects that UCSC will grow its enrollment to 28,000 by 2040 and includes a goal of the school providing housing for all 8,500 new students above its current 19,480 enrollment.

All UC campuses are required to have LRDPs. UC Santa Cruz has had six plans between 1963 and the 2005 plan that was replaced by the 2021 plan. They’ve all been met with opposition.

Many past projections and proposals in prior LRDPs have not been realized. The 1963 LRDP envisioned the school having a student enrollment of 27,500 by 1990. However, by that year enrollment was about 9,720 as a result of political pressures and budget cuts.

Along with the LRDP, the university produced an environmental impact report to analyze the potential effects future growth would have on the surrounding environment. The impact report was approved along with the LRDP.

How much student housing does UCSC currently provide?

UCSC is located in one of the most competitive housing markets in the country. While the school has the second-smallest population in the University of California system, with 19,478 students after UC Merced’s 9,100, the campus has struggled to provide housing for its students as legal challenges block its proposals for on-campus housing.

UCSC spokesperson Scott Hernandez-Jason says the school houses 9,437 of its total 19,478 graduate and undergraduate students. About 258 of those 19,478 students are part of off-campus programs, such as the Silicon Valley or UCDC campuses — which means the Santa Cruz campus houses about 49% of its students.

The university is the only campus in the UC system to not have built any new housing in the past 20 years, according to a 2023 UC housing report. John R. Lewis College (formerly College 10) opened in 2002 and was the most recent college to be built.

While it has not built any new student housing since 2002, UCSC has added 3,300 beds since then by increasing the density of existing housing — turning doubles (rooms with two beds) into triples (three beds in a single room) and converting lounges into bedrooms. The UC housing report estimates that UCSC’s occupancy rate is 130% — higher than any other UC campus.

How much new housing is UCSC building on campus?

Currently, UCSC has two approved housing projects — one is the renovation of Kresge College; the other is the newly approved Student Housing West project. The projects will increase housing inventory by more than 3,500 through 2028. At the same time, the university will be phasing out old housing and reducing the density in its dorms — something Hernandez-Jason said the university will be figuring out as the new beds are made available. This makes that 3,500 number — or its net increase — over the next several years a moving target.

The Kresge College renewal project, which was approved in March 2019 and began construction later that year, will provide housing for approximately 990 total undergraduates when construction is complete in 2025.

Kresge College housed 368 students before the renovation started. This fall, the first phase will make 400 beds available, but the university will also be phasing out 365 beds as it begins construction on the second phase.

Following UC regents’ approval last month of the budget for Student Housing West’s Family Student Housing project, to be located on the East Meadow at Hagar and Coolidge drives, the university hopes to have 140 units done and occupied by 2025.

Construction could begin early next year on a $146 million project that includes 140 units for students with families as...

The second site of Student Housing West, to be located on Heller Drive on the west side of campus, will offer housing for about 2,700 upper-division undergraduate students and 220 graduate students. UCSC officials say once the family student housing project is done and occupied, they can start demolition of the current family student housing complex (which will phase out 200 units) to begin construction of the estimated 2,920 beds. The school says students could move in to the site as early as 2028.

How does the LRDP envision housing all of the 8,500 new students by 2040?

In addition to the roughly 3,500 on-campus beds now in the development pipeline, the LRDP lays out areas that are suitable for new development, including academic buildings and housing or which natural areas will be preserved. The university says that to maintain the natural landscape, it will focus development around the academic core — the developed area in the center of the university’s sprawling 2,000 acres.

In addition to adding density to the core by developing infill, new academic buildings could be added on the southeast and north edges of the academic core, according to the LRDP.

UCSC's 2021 Long Range Development Plan
UCSC’s 2021 Long Range Development Plan shows areas for potential growth of student housing — including two pairs of residential colleges, as seen in the map on the right — for the next 20 years.
(Via UC Santa Cruz)

As for student housing expansion, the university says it could add two new pairs of residential colleges and also expand housing at existing colleges, including Crown, Merrill, Cowell and Stevenson. Two of the new residential colleges would be located northeast of the academic core and the other two would be located northwest of the academic core.

None of these projects has been approved. The LRDP merely projects that those areas could be developed for housing. The university says its projected student housing developments — including the four new residential colleges and expanding housing at current colleges — will meet the need to house all of the new student enrollment on its campus.

When asked how many beds the university planned to build at the new colleges, and how it plans to go about meeting the projection to house 100% of its new students by 2040, Hernandez-Jason didn’t provide specifics, but described the LDRP as a high-level planning document.

“An LRDP is not an approval to develop any particular building or facility, nor does it mandate enrollment growth,” he wrote to Lookout. “It is an important planning tool to ensure a well-thought-out campus design, support our academic and research mission, and facilitate the university’s goal to successfully educate students.”

Who is suing UCSC over the LDRP and why?

UCSC faces several legal challenges to its expansion plans, including a lawsuit by the City of Santa Cruz.

While the city is starting to engage UCSC in conversations outside of the courthouse, City Attorney Anthony P. Condotti said the case continues in the courts and is still in the preliminary stage of litigation. The case will be scheduled for a hearing or a court trial after all evidence is submitted.

Two other entities also continue to have lawsuits against the university that challenge its LRDP. The County of Santa Cruz filed a similar lawsuit around the same time as the city and is still also in the early stages of the case.

Don Stevens of Habitat and Watershed Caretakers, a group that has filed multiple lawsuits challenging the university’s ability to provide affordable housing, told Lookout the group has two ongoing lawsuits related to the LRDP. He said both of the cases are on appeal.

In one case, the group challenges the university’s promise to provide affordable housing. In another case, it argues that the university violated an agreement that required UCSC to conduct analyses of alternatives to growth on the main campus. The agreement required that the university do the analyses before making amendments to the university’s guiding document for campus developments, the Long Range Development Plan.

“UCSC’s preposterous plan to grow to 28,000 students, and add 2,200 more faculty and staff, would be devastating to Santa Cruz,” Stevens said. “We who make our homes here understand this.”


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