After an Enrollment Spike, a University Tells Current Students: No Campus Housing for You

More students are coming to California State Polytechnic at Humboldt. That’s good news for the campus after years of enrollment declines.

But that rapid growth has come at a cost: All current students were informed this week that they very likely won’t have on-campus housing this fall.

Grant Scott-Goforth, a Cal Poly Humboldt spokesperson, confirmed that new first-year and transfer students would be given the first opportunity to sign up for campus housing, with other students “accommodated as available.”

Cal Poly Humboldt expects that about 1,000 returning students will request university-managed housing next year, according to Scott-Goforth, so it’s expanding university off-campus options in nearby motels, which it calls “bridge housing.” The university secured 350 additional off-campus beds, and plans to add about 650 more. The two-bed rooms will be located at Comfort Inn, Motel 6, and Super 8 hotels and motels. Additional arrangements are being finalized, according to the university.

Humboldt will provide free rides on municipal bus routes and expand its shuttle services, and their hours, to transport students from the motels, which are about three miles away, to campus, according to Scott-Goforth.

The news has left many students scrambling and frustrated. At this point, the priority deadline to transfer to other Cal State campuses has long passed, and many Cal State campuses aren’t accepting transfer applications anymore.

“The announcement was made to coincide with applications for fall housing opening, and after enrollment confirmations this spring began to present a clearer picture of new-student enrollment and housing needs for fall,” Scott-Goforth wrote in an emailed statement. The uptick in student interest stems largely from the rebranding of the campus, formerly Humboldt State University, as a science- and technology-focused institution; the name change became official last year.

They’re putting a ton of us out into the street and still expecting us to come to class.

Jacob Scholar, a junior majoring in wildlife management and conservation, was depending on on-campus housing next year. He said the motel option won’t work for him, so he’s trying to find other off-campus housing.

“It’s gonna be really stressful and it’s gonna suck. I wouldn’t be surprised if they didn’t expect 1,000 students to drop out because of this,” Scholar said. “They’re putting a ton of us out into the street and still expecting us to come to class.”

Typically, a lot of Humboldt students continue to live on campus after their freshman year. This spring, 1,147 sophomores, juniors, and seniors live in on-campus residences, while 65 live in a pre-existing motel option. Seven hundred and forty-nine freshmen live on campus this year, including 19 new transfers, according to Scott-Goforth.

Student-housing shortages have been widespread across the country, and most California colleges have long struggled to offer enough housing, given the state’s population density, high cost of living, and environmental restrictions. But the situation at Humboldt is particularly challenging because of its location: Arcata, a remote, small city of 18,000 people in northern California with little off-campus housing. In 2019, one in five students at Humboldt were homeless, according to NowThis News.

What’s happening at Humboldt also illustrates the pressure many public colleges feel to expand enrollment or face financial consequences.

Concerns About Student Life

Juan Guerrero, a senior at Humboldt and president of Associated Students, the university’s student government, said many students aren’t satisfied with the off-campus motels being offered. On Thursday, hundreds of students protested their lack of guaranteed on-campus housing. As of Thursday evening, over 3,600 people had signed an online petition demanding on-campus accommodations.

Johanna Smith, the creator of the petition, is the mother of a current freshman at Humboldt. Smith, a professor at California State University at San Bernardino, said she’s “not OK” with the university’s offer to house her son in a motel. She said she was under the impression her son would have access to on-campus housing during his entire time at Humboldt.

“Part of the reason we accepted Humboldt as an option was they guaranteed us on-campus housing — they said so during orientation,” Smith said. “It’s too late for our students to transfer.”

Smith said Humboldt is facing pressure from the Cal State system to increase enrollment. CSU announced that colleges that are failing to meet enrollment targets, like Cal Poly Humboldt, will lose state funding starting in 2024 if they don’t bring enrollments up, CalMatters reported.

“They’re just not ready to house all these students, but they’re accepting them because they’ve been threatened by the Cal State system to lose their funding if they don’t increase enrollment,” Smith said.

Michael Uhlenkamp, a spokesperson for the system, said that Cal Poly Humboldt’s plan to increase enrollment predated CSU’s budget-reallocation plan and that every CSU campus is now working to expand student housing.

The goal of CSU’s budget reallocation is to “reallocate funding from the campuses that are falling short of enrollment targets to campuses that have demand and capacity to serve more students,” Uhlenkamp said.

Guerrero, who attended the protest at Humboldt, said returning students are concerned that the nearly three-mile commute to campus, potentially with limited public transportation, will have an impact on student life. Guerrero said he’s advocating with the Associated Students to ensure that transportation hours between motels and campus “reflect student life.” Guerrero said students are also concerned that the motels won’t have kitchens, which the student-government president said some students depend on to avoid paying for meal plans. Other students are concerned about the motels’ accessibility.

Guerrero said that because students aren’t satisfied with the motels, many will seek off-campus housing that isn’t managed by the university. He said he wished Humboldt had communicated with students earlier and done more “forward thinking” to plan for housing.

“I’m upset, and a lot of students are upset,” Guerrero said. “There’s this feeling of the unknown, of being unsure what’s next. When it comes to housing, when you’re unsure where you’re gonna sleep, where you’re gonna live, that’s a scary feeling.”

Scholar, the junior, said he’s concerned he’s not going to be able to find off-campus housing.

“Now we all have to go out into this already insane housing market, fight all of these ridiculous prices, and try and find somewhere to live, or join the rest of the one in five on campus that are already homeless,” Scholar said.

Scott-Goforth wrote in his statement that Humboldt is offering more off-campus housing this fall than ever before. In the near future, he said, the university will build more on-campus housing options. A new on-campus development is expected to be ready for students in 2025.

“Housing has long been a challenge in this area, for students and community members,” Scott-Goforth wrote. “The hotel property leases are a temporary solution while new campus housing is built.”

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