University growth rate uncertain

It’s essentially static right now, but that could change

The 800-pound gorilla when it comes to putting pressure on Chico’s older neighborhoods is Chico State University. The more students it has, the more need for student housing. The result in the older neighborhoods near the campus has been a shift from owner-occupied to student-rental houses and a perceived decline in neighborhood quality.

Right now, though, the student population is essentially static, thanks to a directive from the Chancellor’s Office issued in response to the state budget crunch. By policy it will stay that way until there is state funding to support increases.

For the coming year, the university will have an annualized average of 15,800 full-time-equivalent students, the same as last year. That translates to approximately 17,000 bodies, said Bill Allen, the interim director of the university’s Institutional Research Center.

Chico State enrollment is pegged to grow by 1.6 percent a year, in contrast to the 2.5 percent for the rest of the CSU system, according to a deal university President Paul Zingg made with the Chancellor’s Office shortly after he arrived in 2004, in part for the sake of town-gown harmony.

But as this year’s figures suggest, nothing is certain. As Zingg put it in an e-mail, “Enrollment growth planning is an art and a science.”

Still, if the university starts increasing enrollment by 1.6 percent annually, it could result in the addition of several thousand students over the coming years, and no cap has been set on the student population. To meet the demand for housing, the university plans to add 1,200 new dorm beds, bringing the total to 3,000. “With this number, we could house all freshmen … if we wanted to,” Zingg wrote.

The plan depends on acquiring additional houses along Warner Street, next to Eskin and the other dorms now there. “We have no intention of using eminent domain to do so, though, so this is a flexible timetable,” Zingg added.

Which is to say, nobody really knows how much additional pressure student enrollment increases will put on Chico’s older neighborhoods.