The Overcrowding Problem

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Photoillustration by Stephen de Ropp and Owen Thomas
Photoillustration by Stephen de Ropp and Owen Thomas
Photo by Stephen de Ropp.
Photo by Stephen de Ropp.

Whether it’s circling the West Remote parking lot searching for spaces, living in a triple intended as a double or watching the loop buses pass by, students are feeling the effects of overcrowding.

There are over 650 more students on campus this fall than last year due to a systemwide mandate to increase undergraduate enrollment by 10,000 students in three years. The mandate, handed down to each of the campuses last November from the UC Office of the President (UCOP), led to increased enrollment at UC Santa Cruz which has strained many campus resources and services.

Last year, the Student Union Assembly (SUA)passed a resolution condemning the plan, calling for Chancellor George Blumenthal, Executive Vice Chancellor (EVC) Alison Galloway and the Office of Admissions to challenge the plan. The administration, however, didn’t seem to have a choice in the matter.

Four weeks into the increase, City on a Hill Press looked into the ways that some of the most utilized programs and services across campus have been affected, and how they plan to accommodate more students moving forward.

Photo by Stephen de Ropp.
Photo by Stephen de Ropp.

UCSC PD

Charged with keeping the campus and community safe, the UCSC Police Department (UCSC PD) has felt the pressure of overcrowding.

“Six hundred fifty [extra] people on this campus is a lot of people,” said UCSC PD Chief Nadar Oweis.

With the additional bodies on campus, UCSC PD has taken measures to maintain its presence, including having two extra officers earning overtime on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights.

“I wish we had an opportunity to hire more officers,” said Oweis. “But I haven’t been given any more money in my budget to hire [them].”

The campus has also seen an increase in parking citations, thefts, roommate disputes and traffic incidents including hit and runs, said Oweis. But he hopes that the department will change as the demands and needs of the campus grows.

“There’s a lot of different things that we see impact students and their ability to be successful,” he said. “Every time we have more students, we learn on a quarter to quarter basis.”

TAPS

This year, Transportation and Parking Services (TAPS) director Larry Pageler is responsible for over 700 new students’ transportation, double the 350 to 400 student average. To accommodate the increase, there are an additional six metro buses running each day. However, TAPS cut back Night Owl Bus services from everyday to Fridays and Saturday nights only.

TAPS needs to invest in new parking projects and expand metro and on-campus services while also dealing with a $2.9 million deficit. The department may present a parking fee increase referendum of $40 to $50 on this year’s student spring election. This comes after a three-year parking permit increase began this July.

Pageler, along with many frustrated students, is concerned by the excess of R and C permits compared to the number of parking spots. TAPS believes the high living costs are forcing more students to commute, thus increasing parking demands.

“Undergraduate students are moving to [the] Eastside, Live Oak, Capitola,” Pageler said. “It doesn’t surprise me, given the housing trends in Santa Cruz, but it does make it hard to rely on metro. It may force students to drive to campus.”

Additional parking facilities are beyond TAPS’ financial capacity, but Pageler hopes to add more spaces to existing remote lots. The current option is to restrict parking permit sales and open lots not normally used for R and C permits on especially crowded days.

Photo by Stephen de Ropp.
Photo by Stephen de Ropp.

SHOP

Like many other campus programs, the Student Health and Outreach Program (SHOP) is increasing its resources to accommodate the increase in students. SHOP provides students with safe sex resources, STI testing and alcohol education, and more students means more output of resources.

“We have to always be constantly upping our game to make sure we’re serving our student body,” said SHOP director Meg Kobe. “Not only are we seeing an increased demand for services, but we’re also seeing a variety of different students that we have on our campus.”

Kobe noted that SHOP has started pursuing targeted messaging to accommodate a number of student organizations. She hopes this creative outreach will help a wider number of students on campus.

In addition to sexual health and alcohol and drug safety, Kobe spoke of the impacts housing has on student health.

“My biggest concern for how we support students is the crisis in housing. Folks living in tight living quarters — it affects communicable diseases, just colds and flus,” she said. “It influences dynamics, relationships, fights, getting along, not having a space to decompress.”

OPERS

Even with the Measure 64 and 65 ,student fees that passed last spring in the campus elections, the sheer amount of people seeking to use Office of Physical Education, Recreation and Sports (OPERS) facilities and services still poses a challenge — and expansion is not in the immediate future.

“For expanding our wellness center or the rest of our recreational facilities, it’s going to be a much longer term process,” said OPERS facilities and operations supervisor Colin Allison, “and it’s going to be a bigger fee commitment.”

An average of 2,000 students use the OPERS facilities every day, Allison said, which doesn’t include community members, staff and faculty who use the facilities.

“Just students alone, we’ve seen extraordinarily high numbers,” Allison said.

Even though each additional student adds $30 in fees each quarter to OPERS’s budget, it’s just enough to sustain their current offerings and for some building maintenance. Finding money for all necessary maintenance is an issue. “A lot of our buildings need some really serious repairs,” said Allison.

Registrar

Since the student increase, UCSC’s Office of the Registrar worked to open seats in classes while also collaborating with maintenance to repair worn down classrooms.

“The increase in students has affected the campus. It’s apparent,” said UCSC registrar Tchad Sanger. “The increase in enrollment has been a challenge, and I believe that the campus has done what it can to manage the challenges as effectively as it can.”

Since the change in class times, UCSC is able to offer more classes across majors, though Sanger said exact data won’t be released until November. The registrar will also be launching a shopping cart validation for MyUCSC in the winter, which will allow students to better see conflicting times in the schedule and adjust accordingly, before actually enrolling.

Sanger said that seats in Classroom Unit 1 will be replaced over winter break, and seats in Jack Baskin and Earth and Marine Sciences buildings will likely be fixed in the near future. Since enrollment will continue to increase over the next two years, the registrar will likely work to ensure seats are filled to accommodate students.

“As these buildings get older, it becomes a greater challenge to get the chairs repaired, the utilization of more courses affects the maintenance schedule and the need for maintenance,” Sanger said. “We are making those improvements as we can.”

CAPS

Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) is busy each year, and this year is no different, especially as campus resources are stretched thin.

“So far, it seems comparable to last year. We are noticing that students are reporting increased stress and anxiety due to no private space and increased housing conflicts,” said CAPS director Gary Dunn in an email. “Students with social anxiety and difficulty connecting with peers are finding that it is even harder to socialize or connect in a casual way to make friends because there aren’t lounges or public spaces.”

The most common frustrations that CAPS is hearing from students include issues like sleep disturbances impacted by increased noise, stress and anxiety due to limited class availability and an increase in local rent in town, forcing many students to work more or compromise with adequate living quarters.

This year CAPS added additional meetings to address negativity, hired a trauma-focused therapist and an additional case manager. Dunn said while it is still early to draw conclusions about the impact of the additional students, these changes “appear to be helping.”

“As enrollment grows, we hope to be able to use the additional revenue to maintain an adequate staff to student ratio,” Dunn said. “We are also expanding our services so students have more options including [these programs].”

CHES

Colleges, Housing and Educational Services (CHES) planned for impacted and more crowded housing and living spaces by converting singles to doubles and doubles to triples. But they didn’t expect that they would have over 260 empty beds on campus.

“I’m frankly surprised there are this many spaces on campus,” said Housing Services and Facilities director David Keller. “[…] Everyone on the waitlist for single student housing has been offered a space, but that does not address the frustration of students who didn’t put in an application.”

Since the majority of the residential lounge spaces and communal areas in the dormitories were converted to rooms, CHES allocated an additional $20,000 per college to purchase outdoor furniture for students. Likewise, the dining halls have expanded hours during the week and on the weekends.

Over the summer, CHES added 147 additional bed spaces to accommodate students by squeezing beds into the already existing residential dormitories. Keller said that isn’t a long term solution and CHES is looking to renovate Kresge, Family Student Housing and other potential places on the west side of campus to accommodate the increase in students and the demand for more bed spaces.

“We are trying to strike that balance of capacity and quality of living,” Keller said. “We try to balance that, but having been engaged in room conversions every summer since 2008, the ones we did this summer represent the last of our ability to do that.”

SOAR

Student Organization Advising and Resources (SOAR) recognizes the challenge of fostering student agency and students spaces in an increasingly overcrowded university. So far, there were 30 new or reactivated organizations added to over 100 already existing groups on campus. While this provides additional opportunities for students to become involved, it stretches already scarce resources.

“Some students are just having trouble establishing a regular meeting time with each other. There are a couple of organizations that are doing late night meetings,” said SOAR advisor Cory Fong. “They’re starting meetings 9:30 at night, and they’re closing at 11 because that’s the only time people can meet.”

With increased students, classroom space is becoming increasingly rare. This problem is challenging for larger scale events like the Student-Initiated Outreach (SIO) program, in which on campus organizations such as the Afrikan/Black Student Association (ABSA) hold overnight weekend events for traditionally underrepresented students. The students get an early college experience by staying in the dorm lounges, but many of these lounges no longer exist.

“They’re not just coming in [to SOAR] to talk about their orgs. They also need to talk about what their housing situation is and how that’s affecting their ability to organize or what their class schedule is and how that’s affecting their ability,” Fong said.

For some students, mounting responsibilities and increasingly conflicting time schedules are preventing them from taking on leadership roles or joining activities to begin with. While the desire for community engagement remains strong, students struggle to balance various roles in academics, work and leadership and SOAR advisors juggle increasing the workload without additional staff.

Photo by Stephen de Ropp.
Photo by Stephen de Ropp.