Tidal Wave II

Higher education faces flood of students
UC, counterparts nationwide cope with rising enrollments, tighter space

By Kathleen Maclay, Public Affairs
Posted 26 Jan 2000

Boom, tidal wave, surge. Whatever the terminology, educators are bracing for substantial college enrollments in the coming decade, not just in California but across most of the country.

The prospects are sending educators and policy-makers into overdrive as they wrestle with how to accommodate more than 2 million new full-time students expected at public and private colleges and universities nationwide by 2010. Between 1995-96 and 2011-12 the number of high school graduates will increase 31 percent in the West, 10 percent in the North-Central region, 17 percent in the Northeast and 23 percent in the South.

At the Jan. 20 UC Board of Regents meeting, the University of California provided the first glimpse of what the UC system is facing. Regents were told that to meet growth demands through 2010 the system must plan -- and secure state funding -- for 63,000 students more than are currently enrolled.

Beyond issues of physical space, facilities, faculty, staff and necessary services, the projections raise a major question about whether all eligible for college admission will find a seat in the classroom. Leaders holding the reins of public education must find ways to make way for the additional students, or degrade a key element of the American dream.

And the clock is ticking.

"There's not a lot of time. The rubber is going to hit the highway pretty soon, and I just don't think the states have really thought through what happens ..." said Cheryl Blanco, director of policy and information for the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education. California is one of the few already preparing, she said.

Source of surge

Population growth alone is expected by the year 2015 to account for more than four million additional college students than educated nationwide in 1995, according to a report by the Commission on National Investment in Higher Education. Growth reflected by record elementary and secondary school enrollment in the United States in the 1990s is expected to continue surging in the coming decade.

American Demographics magazine reported in June that the population boom will not echo evenly everywhere. Regional economies, varying fertility rates and inter-state migration are among the critical variables.

West Virginia, Kentucky and Indiana, for example, should feel the impact of declining or negligible birth rate changes. But out West, only Wyoming and North Dakota expect declining numbers of high school graduates. Meanwhile, California, Texas and Florida will experience the results of a disproportionately high percent of birth increases.

The Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education cites statistics indicating California, Arizona, Colorado, Washington and Nevada will see enrollment soar by 25 to 35 percent by 2008.

California's public colleges and universities face unprecedented student growth in the next 10 years, with enrollment swelling by an estimated 700,000 new students.

UC systemwide faces an increased enrollment of almost 63,000 full-time students, or 43 percent. This equals the system's total enrollment growth over the preceding 30 years, and matches current enrollment at UC Berkeley and UCLA combined.

Enrollment is forecast to jump 36 percent at California community colleges and 37 percent at California State University campuses.

Sandra Smith, UC's assistant vice president for planning and analysis, said 39,000 of the new wave had been expected and is addressed in system expansion plans. UC already is developing its 10th general campus, UC Merced, and Gov. Gray Davis has asked that it open a year early, in 2004. It will enroll 5,000 students by 2010.

The Berkeley campus is being asked to explore how it could absorb an additional 4,000 students by 2010. That represents annual growth of 1.1 percent over the next 10 years, the most modest rate of any of the campuses.

"California's student-age population is growing. If Berkeley is to continue to educate the very best students in the state, and I believe we must, then we are going to have to address this issue with great creativity and equal sensitivity," said Chancellor Berdahl.

For example, the chancellor said, making greater use of a 40-classroom campus that UC Extension operates in San Francisco could provide students of the arts more access to museums and performing arts, while urban studies students could benefit by a city-based center as well.

Meeting the challenge at Berkeley and across the system will, of course, require a sustained commitment of resources. For instance, UC campus growth, along with needed renovation and seismic projects, will require $500 million per year in capital funding. The university will need to hire approximately 3,000 new faculty members for enrollment growth alone. Student services will likewise require expansion.

Degree dreams

Add to population trends the growing value placed on the college degree. National college-going rates show 65 percent of recent high school graduates enroll in college the next fall.

Maybe it started with the G.I. Bill after World War II, boosting college education by underwriting costs. The increase in financial aid grants and loans that became available in the '60s and '70s is another ingredient. Although the U.S. population only doubled since 1930, higher education enrollment increased seven times, according to the Commission on National Investment in Higher Education.

A 1996 report by the Hudson Institute Policy Research Center in Indianapolis traced higher education enrollment from 1.5 million students in 1,700 institutions after WWII to 3.6 million students in 2,000 colleges and universities 20 years later. The report calls the U.S. higher education system "indisputably the world's post secondary superpower."

"As long as a college education remains an enormous value in the job market and a person's life, the demand for it is not going to decline," said Smith.

New options

To deal with that demand, colleges across the country are exploring options such as:

  • UC is looking at added off-campus enrollment in study-abroad programs and distance learning, as well as accelerating by one quarter or one semester the time taken to graduate. More courses may be added at night, late afternoons and weekends.

  • The Western Governors University is an on-line university operated by a consortium of states. Participating states set up local centers with counseling and technological aid.

  • At Northern Arizona University, some students may attend large lecture courses via the Internet. Some schools require students to take a certain number of units via distance learning.

  • Joint-use facilities. In Nevada, the K-12 schools are linking with community college campuses in Reno and Las Vegas.

  • Sending more students to summer school. The Florida Legislature passed a law in the 1980s requiring college students to attend at least one summer session.

  • Dual enrollment in high school and college, enabling new high school graduates to amass college credits before enrolling full-time.

  • Capping the number of credits students can earn, or limiting units required for a baccalaureate degree. In the past, Montana's legislature ordered students to pay full rather than state-subsidized tuition if they take more than a set number of units.

  • Enacting tougher eligibility standards or raising fees. Such legislative actions may be politically unpopular but nevertheless can effectively limit enrollment.

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Produced by the staff of the Berkeleyan in the Office of Public Affairs. Questions or comments? E-mail berkeleyan@berkeley.edu.
Copyright 2000, The Regents of the University of California.