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UC San Diego enrollment hits nearly 43,000, shattering record

UC San Diego students get an orientation on Sept. 23, 2019.
UC San Diego transfer students get an orientation in 2019.
(K.C. Alfred / San Diego Union-Tribune)

Fall enrollment at UC San Diego has hit 42,875, smashing the university’s record by 2,392 and contributing to a campus housing shortage and crowding problems that have frustrated many students.

These are preliminary numbers. But the increase is the largest in the institution’s 61-year history and means that UCSD has reached its planned capacity of 42,400 almost 15 years early.

The school now has roughly 7,300 more students than San Diego State and nearly 26,000 more than Stanford.

The figure is likely to go much higher, and not simply because a Blue Line trolley station will open on campus next month, linking it to commuter students who live as far away as San Ysidro.

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Chancellor Pradeep Khosla told the San Diego Union-Tribune in September that the school is facing long-term growth pressures that could push enrollment to 50,000 within a decade, making the campus among the largest in the western U.S.

The estimate reflects the fact that the University of California Board of Regents is considering adding 20,000 students systemwide by 2030. Upwards of 6,200 of those students could enroll next year.

“The demand for, and the value, of a UC education has only grown over the years,” UC President Michael Drake said earlier this fall, The Times reported.

“Record-breaking application numbers speak for themselves, as do the stories we’ve all heard over the years about the challenges students face in achieving acceptance to the university’s campuses. It’s clear that enrollment growth is essential to the future of the university and the state.”

The Blue Line trolley will begin serving UC San Diego on Nov. 21
(K.C. Alfred / San Diego Union-Tribune)

The growth also is occurring because larger numbers of California high school students are meeting the eligibility requirements for entry to the UC system.

Many of those students are being steered toward UC’s La Jolla and Irvine campuses, which still have room to grow. Both schools also train thousands of students to enter two of California’s largest industries, biotech and the life sciences.

The new fall enrollment figures brought a mixed reaction from Manu Agni, president of UCSD’s Associated Students.

“It is great that UCSD has greatly expanded access,” Agni told the Union-Tribune. “It means that a lot of people who have dreamed of going here — especially historically underrepresented minorities — will have an opportunity that otherwise would not have been possible.

“But it’s also true that current students are feeling the strain of enrollment growth through a shortage of campus housing, long lines at dining halls, long lines for shuttles and MTS transit buses, and the challenges of finding parking.”

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In early July, more than 3,100 students found themselves on a waiting list for campus housing, partly because the school had eliminated 2,000 beds to promote social distancing during the pandemic. The cut became permanent; the university decided it wasn’t wise to place up to three students in a room.

Many students and their parents responded with outrage, saying that the university had failed to tell them in a clear and timely way that there was a serious housing shortage. University officials disagreed.

A feeding frenzy ensued as students tried to find accommodations in the La Jolla area, where lodging is expensive and in short supply.

The new Blue Line trolley service will enable some students to live further away, in places like downtown San Diego and the Chula Vista area.

But there’s still some discomfort.

“The idea of making the trolley station the front door to the campus at a time of peak student demand for housing, parking and food could affect the quality of student life,” Agni said. “We just don’t know yet.”


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