Quick Take:

UC Santa Cruz officials are preparing to offer 100% of courses in person next quarter after what they say was a successful fall quarter, with positive feedback from students and zero community transmission of COVID-19 on campus. But some students are not optimistic about finding housing in Santa Cruz.

Once bustling with more than 19,000 students, the faculty and staff at UC Santa Cruz circa 2019 made up the equivalent of a small town. But after cutting its on-campus classes to 66% and offering hybridized courses this fall, UCSC’s current state of reality has been more subdued.

The buzz might return to the hill soon, though. Thanks to what campus administrators say has been a successful fall in keeping COVID-19 at bay, UCSC could revert to its pre-pandemic bustle in January by offering 100% of its courses in person for the winter quarter.

First-year student Carys Garvey said the ability to be back on campus in a classroom has been a huge lift for students like herself.

The number of students on campus will soon grow.
The number of students on campus will soon grow. Credit: Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz

“It really makes you appreciate actually being able to connect with people here, being in person with a lecturer and being able to ask questions,” she said. “I feel like we took that for granted a lot before COVID-19.”

Along with the positive feedback from students, UCSC leaders cite zero community transmission of COVID-19 on campus as a key factor in their decision for a full return.

While the idea of a full return to campus appeals to many students and staff, it’s not without its complications — particularly for those who hadn’t already procured housing.

Rojina Bozorgnia, a UCSC Politics and Education fourth-year student, decided to continue with remote learning in the fall after not being able to find housing in Santa Cruz. Now, with her classes returning to in-person this winter, Bozorgnia is scrambling to find housing in one of the most expensive housing markets in the country.

“We’re not telling everyone to go back inside,” Bozorgnia said. “We’re not telling everyone to make everything online again, but we’re asking folks to practice a little bit of sensibility, flexibility and understanding when it comes to realizing that not everyone is ready to go back in person fully. Especially when the university hasn’t meaningfully addressed the housing crisis.”

Bozorgnia added that for students who stayed remote through the fall quarter, searching for housing is an additional stressor as final exams near.

UCSC student walks through halls
UC Santa Cruz will start back on Jan. 31 rather than Jan. 18.

“It’s unfair to disrupt people’s academic cycles by moving in the middle of the year,” Bozorgnia said. “That was something that students were forced to do because of COVID-19, and it was pretty disruptive to everyone’s academic progress.”

Sarah Latham, UCSC vice chancellor for business and administrative services, said that administrators don’t foresee major challenges when it comes to housing students in the winter quarter. She said that reallocating some COVID-19 isolation units to housing units and housing students in hotels are two of the ways administration plans to support students in the coming quarter. According to a Nov. 22 CalMatters report, UCSC is using 60 rooms at the Ocean Street Best Western to house graduate students.

UCSC has enough on-campus housing for 9,300 students for the upcoming quarter, the same number as in the fall.

UCSC officials say they are expecting 300 new students to fill available housing units on campus, since enrollment tends to decrease from fall to winter.

“Anytime there’s a housing challenge like in Santa Cruz, students might not be able to get exactly the specific place or the specific type of housing that they’re seeking,” Latham said.

UCSC spokesperson Scott Hernandez-Jason said academic divisions have been working to connect with students not currently living in Santa Cruz, particularly those who are on track to graduate this year. He added that students who are unable to return to campus in the winter for personal or family reasons may be given remote options.

“In rare cases, this might include emergency remote attendance in an in-person course, although not all courses have learning outcomes that can be accomplished remotely,” Hernandez-Jason said. “In other cases, students may do independent study or take an online course.”

Reflecting on fall quarter

UCSC officials say they have heard overwhelmingly positive feedback from students and faculty as many in-person courses returned for the first time in over a year. They added that COVID-19 case numbers and UCSC vaccination rates are proof that protocols put in place worked effectively in the fall.

Latham said that concerns about COVID-19 at the beginning of the year have diminished over time as cases among students and staff stayed relatively low throughout the quarter.

By the numbers

UCSC COVID-19 cases, positivity rate and vaccination rate

  • 65 UCSC students tested positive for COVID-19 both on and off campus since fall instruction began on Sept. 23 through Dec. 2
  • 8 UCSC employees tested positive for COVID-19 off campus since fall instruction began on Sept. 23 through Dec. 2
  • 0.86% positivity rate over the course of a week for UCSC students and employees from on-site lab testing as of Dec. 2
  • 95.6% of UCSC students are fully vaccinated as of Nov. 30
  • 91.3% of UCSC faculty and staff are fully vaccinated as of Nov. 30

Hernandez-Jason said the university is closely monitoring the Omicron variant, the first case of which was identified in San Francisco on Dec. 1. He added that UCSC plans to continue with 100% in-person courses this winter, and will be providing employees and students with COVID-related guidance as the transition from fall to winter nears.

“We want to help reduce the spread of COVID-19 through the holiday break and into our winter start,” he said.

Third-year physics student Daniel Halpern-DeVries said that university protocols like on-site COVID-19 testing, mandatory masking indoors and required vaccinations have helped him feel safe while living on campus and attending in-person classes.

“Everyone’s wearing masks and people are being pretty careful about it,” he said. “Everyone seems to be taking it pretty seriously on campus from what I’ve seen.”

He said that although campus life is not the same as it once was, this quarter was a good change of pace in comparison to 2020.

“It’s taking some getting used to again,” Halpern-DeVries said. “It’s been nice to be able to do some things in person like taking midterms in person. It’s been a bit of a different transition.”

At UCSC, first-year students are given the highest priority in obtaining on-campus housing making the move to Santa Cruz a lot less stressful. Hailey Rodrick, a first-year at UCSC, is taking both in-person and online classes while living on campus.

“Being on campus has been a really lovely experience,” Rodrick said. “Being able to be submerged in this community has been really important for me, especially going from being online to now being able to interact with others has been beneficial.”

Follow Haneen Zain on: Twitter. Haneen moved to Santa Cruz from Orange County in 2017 to begin her undergraduate education at UC Santa Cruz. After graduating in 2021 with a B.A. in politics, she decided...