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UC Santa Cruz’s admissions grew by 10,000 students this year. Here's why

A wooden sign that reads "University of California Santa Cruz" that marks the entrance to UCSC's campus.
Jerimiah Oetting
The University of California is growing, but despite over 10,000 newly admitted students, the university says actual enrollment should only increase by a few hundred this year.

The university says the large number of admitted students will not lead to a substantial increase of newly enrolled students, but was a strategic way to maximize offers to students from within California.

Michelle Whittingham, who oversees enrollment and admissions at UC Santa Cruz, said the college actually expects to enroll an estimated 5,500 students — a number based on early acceptance rates and data from prior years. If that number holds true, it would mean only a few hundred additional enrolled students compared to last year, despite the large increase in admitted students.

“Many students applying to the UC are absolutely incredible students with many different admission offers,” Whittingham said, and some of those admitted students will enroll elsewhere.

Whittingham explains the college is trying to meet goals set by California lawmakers, who are pushing UC colleges to enroll more students from California. To that end, UC Santa Cruz is trying various ways to maximize the diversity of the admitted student pool — and increase the number of admitted students from California — without overloading the campus.

One strategy: Whittingham said just over a thousand of the admitted first-year students would start in winter quarter instead of fall.

“We have students that graduate fall quarter, students that are moving off-campus fall quarter,” she said. “So that opens up a little additional capacity in the winter.” Enrolling students over the summer could also increase capacity, she said.

The college also limited the number of students admitted to the popular computer science major, where the enrollment rate is much higher than in other majors.

All of this is “optimizing and maximizing the capacity for California students,” said Whittingham. The hope is the large number of admitted students will increase the number of California students who enroll.

Housing is a major challenge to UC Santa Cruz's plans for growth. Santa Cruz County was recently ranked the most expensive housing market in the country, and stories from students who have struggled to find and afford housing are common.

“Every conversation we have about enrollment, housing is a part of that conversation,” Whittingham said. “So we're going to continue to do all that we can to expand and plan for this.”

That includes hundreds of new beds becoming available this winter, with the ongoing renovation of Kresge College. Early next year, construction will start on the Student Housing West project, which in coming years will provide accommodations for thousands of additional students.

But the new housing options will mostly serve new students, who are guaranteed housing for their first year. After that, students who don’t land an on-campus apartment will enter the challenging Santa Cruz housing market.

"We're committed to ensuring that we're housing as many students as we can, in alignment with the agreement that the campus has made with the city of Santa Cruz," Whittingham said.

Jerimiah Oetting is KAZU’s news director. Prior to his career in public media, he was a field biologist with the U.S. Forest Service and National Park Service.
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