College Matters | Housing and other news you might not believe

This article was originally posted in the College Matters column of the Times-Standard.

Thursday, February 1, 2024 - 1:30pm

Cal Poly Humboldt is one of the state’s true residential campuses. We are not a commuter campus. What makes us distinctive is that when a student decides to attend this university, they are likely moving not only to a residence hall or apartment on or around campus but also becoming a citizen of the North Coast.

The “out-of-classroom” experience is important. This is where students spend the most time and often do the most learning. Outside the classroom is where students discuss what they learned in class, work to solve the world’s challenges, socialize, and learn to become contributing members of society. This is why the quality of housing is so important to the success of the student.

If you’ve driven past Arcata on Highway 101 lately, you’ve most likely noticed the tall crane and large construction site. That’s the future home of nearly 1,000 Cal Poly Humboldt students. It’s also the clearest symbol yet of Humboldt’s commitment to quality and affordable student housing.

Once completed, this project will add nearly 50% more student housing. It will help students today, and well into the future, be able to afford the Humboldt experience that our alumni value so highly.

Another thing it will do is further lock in our advantage as the university with some of the most affordable and abundant housing among the 23 institutions in the California State University system.

You read that right. Humboldt has some of the most affordable and abundant student housing in the CSU, and we’re within two years of having quite a bit more.

Now for a favor. Just for a little while, set aside what you think you “know” about housing at Cal Poly Humboldt. Set aside the over-excited news articles you may have read. Just take a look at some objective facts and let them sink in.

Some facts:

• In a recent review of on-campus housing costs compiled by one of our sister universities, Cal Poly Humboldt had the 5th lowest room rates in the 23 universities of the CSU.

• In that same review, Humboldt’s combination of room rates and meal plan was the eighth lowest in the CSU.

• In a 2022 CSU report on housing provided to the state Legislature, Humboldt students had access to the fifth most affordable off-campus rentals in the CSU.

• In that same report to the Legislature, Humboldt had the fifth-highest availability of on-campus housing in the CSU (space for 36.1% of students).

And for context, last fall, over 300 on-campus spaces remained available for students. There were probably many hundreds still available throughout the community.

Yes, we will continue highlighting these points to prospective students.

We know Humboldt has faced our share of housing challenges in recent years. Much of it results from misinformation or outdated information. We also know we’re not alone, and in many ways, doing comparatively well. Housing is a challenge at many universities. Major news outlets have been filled with articles about this, with headlines like “America’s Colleges Are Also Facing a Housing Crisis” and “The Housing Crisis on U.S. College Campuses”.

There are all kinds of reasons, but the simplest way to think about it is that universities are caught up in the same difficulties as the rest of the country.

The response on our campus to students having trouble finding or affording housing — and really, you have to admire this — is to go 110% into trying to fix it. Sometimes, unfortunately, that leads some people on campus to overestimate and loudly over-state the scope of the problem.

That level of care and concern, in a positive way, led Humboldt to take extraordinary steps to find additional housing options for students as we grow enrollment. We expanded campus support for students seeking off-campus housing, strengthened financial aid, increased online access to rental search resources, and developed closer partnerships with property managers. We rented a hotel, where students have now been living for two years and have reported having a positive experience. We had standby contracts with other hotels nearby in case the campus needed it. We even made a longshot bid to bring in floating luxury apartments to Humboldt Bay if needed. (Sure, some teased us about the idea, but others immediately scrambled to find out how to get a space.)

The message about student housing in the coming year is clear and consistent: We will be able to accommodate students in student housing who apply for housing in a timely manner.

Humboldt students, many of whom travel a great distance from home to pursue their education, find themselves in an amazing place to live and learn. They have committed faculty and staff who care deeply for their success, and they enjoy support in nearby communities, where many of them eventually live during their time as students or after graduation. We’re working to ensure this experience continues well into the future, and providing affordable, high-quality student housing is a vital part of that effort.

Be well.

Dr. Tom Jackson is the president of Cal Poly Humboldt.