The closing of UC Berkeley’s main Extension campus in San Francisco may mean an influx of students from the school to Berkeley, but that’s not the first choice of UC administrators.
The school would rather lease another property in San Francisco for the school’s more popular classes or move some of them to the other Extension campus on Market Street. For now, the Berkeley option remains on the backburner, but “I wouldn’t rule it out,” says UC spokesperson Janet Gilmore.
Whatever is decided, moving 15,000 students and hundreds of faculty from the facility will not be popular—especially with the prospect of having to cross the Bay Bridge to Berkeley for classes.
“I suppose I would go to Berkeley if somebody died and I had to get there, but I won’t get on that bridge. It scares me,” says retired student Norma Miller, 78, of San Francisco. Miller, a member of the 350 strong Center for Learning in Retirement (CLIR) student association, is not alone in her feelings about having to travel to Berkeley for classes. “I don’t like to go to Berkeley for any reason because it isn’t clean. I’ve seen incidents where I don’t feel safe, and I’m from Cleveland originally,” says 65-year-old Lynne Faust.
Another factor souring senior students on the potential commute to Berkeley is the cost.
“It’s expensive to get there. BART is expensive. It’s getting more expensive. The bridge is expensive,” says Faust. “I would rather pay $5 to go to Marin than $2 for the East Bay.”
At a recent CLIR meeting none of the 25 students in attendance said they would go to Berkeley for classes. CLIR students take courses during the day on the campus in art, theater, literature, foreign language and other subjects. While independent from UC Berkeley Extension, CLIR students have been taking courses at the site for 30 years. Now they’re looking for a new home.
At night, students are generally younger and take certificate classes in accounting, marketing, interior design, computer programming and graphic arts.
The sprawling campus, which takes up two city blocks on Laguna Street on the outskirts of downtown San Francisco, is being closed in part because enrollment has declined with the slumping economy. Since all UC Extension campuses must be self-supporting, a drop in enrollment means less money to operate campuses.
Roughly 90 percent of campus income is generated from student enrollment fees. UC officials blame the dot com bust and other factors for the enrollment decline that’s affected the bottom line. During the fall 2001-2001 school year, UC Extension generated roughly $48 million at its seven Bay Area campuses. For the 2002-2003 school year, income dropped to $35 million. An estimated 15,000 students currently take 717 classes at the Laguna Street campus.
Because all of UC Berkeley's Extension revenue is combined, there is no breakdown available for the drop in revenue at the Laguna Street campus. It is however the only campus that UC Berkeley Extension owns and as such is an asset.
Another contributing factor for the closure is the building’s need for seismic repairs and improving access for the disabled—renovation costs that are estimated to be in the millions.
When the site closes on Dec. 31, UC plans to lease it to an organization that will turn the campus into affordable housing units. Built in the 1920s, it is the original campus of San Francisco State. The site also once housed the French American school. UC Berkeley Extension bought the property in 1958 and has held classes there since.
Faculty and staff at the campus were told of UC’s plans in a recent email, but the vagueness of the future plans for the school had many scratching their heads.
“Where are they going to find another facility that’s large enough to hold as many classes as we do at this location?” said a UC employee who asked not to be identified. UC has instructed all 30 staffers and faculty to refer questions about the closure to UC spokespeople.
The employee also cited the ample parking at the Laguna Street campus as a reason for staying put. “We have a lower lot and an upper parking lot and a lot on the side. We’re looking at a little more than 300 spaces. This is $5 parking. Our downtown center is $15 for parking and it’s only one floor, so there’s no way they’re all going to fit.”
The staffer doesn’t see most of the students traveling to Berkeley for classes. “Honestly, I think they would rather go to City College or something else in the city that’s easier. This was convenient for them and I think that’s why most of them came here.”
“The worst part about all of this is we don’t know if we’re going to have jobs,” said the employee.
Besides the two in San Francisco, UC Berkeley Extension operates campuses in Berkeley, downtown Oakland, Fremont, San Ramon and Redwood City.