Enrollment increases at the University of California (UC) and the California State University (CSU) are good news for California students and the state. As these institutions accommodate and graduate more students, greater numbers of Californians will be able to enjoy the substantial benefits of a college degree. In the past five years, the total number of newly enrolled students (freshmen and transfer) has grown by almost 40,000 at UC and 54,000 at CSU over the preceding five years. As campuses enroll more students, housing those students can be a challenge.
California’s students are not immune to the housing crisis facing the state. According to Zillow, California is home to four of the eight most expensive rental markets in the nation (the metropolitan areas of San Jose, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and San Diego, and Ventura County). Furthermore, parts of the state that were once regarded as more affordable have seen average rents increase by more than 10% in the past year, including the Inland Empire, Sacramento, Fresno, and Bakersfield. Average rents range from $1,400 in Bakersfield to $2,900 in San Jose and San Francisco. For most students, housing costs (including room and board) are higher than tuition and fees.
At UC, almost all first-time, first-year students live in university housing. This pattern is consistent across campuses. At CSU, housing varies widely across campuses. Campuses in relatively lightly populated areas (Humboldt, San Luis Obispo, and Monterey Bay) are more likely to provide university housing for most first-time students. But urban areas vary significantly. For example, Cal State LA has very little university housing while most first-year students at San Francisco State live in university housing.
Research suggests that students who live on campus are more likely to remain in college. But across all UC and CSU campuses, most undergraduates beyond their first year move out of university housing. It is not clear the extent to which this move is due to insufficient university housing or other factors, including trying to find less expensive housing. At many campuses, university housing is as or even more costly than private housing. Living with family is the most inexpensive option, and is relatively common at many CSU campuses. It is notable that this pattern is not the norm at some of the state’s most selective private colleges. For example, the vast majority (over 90%) of all undergraduates at Stanford, Cal Tech, and the Claremont colleges live in university housing until they graduate.
The state’s colleges and universities are in a unique position to be able to build housing to accommodate the housing needs of their students. Of course, local restrictions can impose a significant burden and impede new student housing. The state should ensure that the needs of students are fully taken into account by local jurisdictions when housing proposals from California’s public universities are being considered. Student housing may be just one part of California’s larger housing crisis, but it is an essential component of creating a highly educated, highly skilled workforce for the future.