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UCSD Sees Huge Crush Of Students On First Day Of School

Students walk at UC San Diego in this undated photo.
Milan Kovacevic
Students walk at UC San Diego in this undated photo.

As students return to UCSD's campus for the fall quarter, university officials say enrollment might be at it's highest in the school's 61-year history.

After a year of virtual classes, UC San Diego opened its campus to in-person instruction this week.

While exact enrollment figures won't be available until October, the university projects that a record 41,000 students are attending this fall.

Now that the campus, which was a virtual ghost town last year, is welcoming back students and faculty, many say there’s a sense of relief and excitement as the semester begins.

RELATED: Students Move-in To UC San Diego Campus With Strict COVID-19 Protocols

However, COVID precautions are still in place from masks to outdoor tent classrooms.

Gary Robbins is a reporter for The San Diego Union-Tribune who covered UC San Diego's opening week.

"I have never seen that many people at that university," Robbins said. "There are places there that look like a street corner in downtown New York City."

Robbins joined Midday Edition on Friday with more on the return to campus.

UCSD Sees Huge Crush Of Students On First Day Of School

Speaker 1: (00:00)

After a year of virtual classes, you see San Diego came roaring back this week, welcoming in-person what could be the largest number of fall semester students in its history. UC San Diego is projecting that when the final count is in a record, 41,000 students are attending this fall. Now that the campus, which was a virtual ghost town last year is teaming with students and faculty many say there's a sense of relief and excitement as the semester begins, but COVID precautions are still in place from masks to outdoor tent classrooms. And joining me is San Diego union Tribune reporter Gary Robbins, Gary. Welcome.

Speaker 2: (00:42)

Hi, it's good to hear your voice

Speaker 1: (00:44)

Now, starting an in-person semester would be a big enough advance for UC San Diego, but the largest fall semester class in its history. What's the reason for that record amount of students.

Speaker 2: (00:56)

There are several reasons. They're more cyclical. Students in California are meeting the eligibility requirements for the university of California system and the, you know, they're banging on the doors they want in, in recent years, the state's population also has grown quite a bit. So put those two together and you have just a lot more demand. And it's also the reputation of the university of California system and its campuses. It's a well-known brand that people really, really want to be on UC campuses. And UC San Diego has been one of the places that's had more room to grow. So a lot of the growth has been occurring. There

Speaker 1: (01:29)

What's the mood on campus with students back for in-person instruction.

Speaker 2: (01:33)

It was like a excited but anxious. I was there yesterday at 9:00 AM. I have never seen that many people that the university, there were places there that looked like a street corner in downtown New York city. I talked to a lot of students and faculty. They were really excited to be there because of the growth and the opportunity to study in person instead of by zoom. And

Speaker 1: (01:53)

Tell us about the 10 classrooms.

Speaker 2: (01:55)

Yeah, so they have several all over campus. Those that I came up over the past year because they did offer some in-person classes at the university, but they put them in these like almost like circus tents, outdoors that were really well ventilated that gave them a chance to get some students in front of teachers. They kept the tents because they didn't know what was going to happen. This phone, like, I mean, we had a surge over the summer. It was just really uncertain. Plus frankly, they needed the, the additional room. So many people are coming onto the campus. That space is very, very tight.

Speaker 1: (02:24)

Now everyone on campus has to show proof of vaccination, but of course there are breakthrough cases. How much testing is underway there.

Speaker 2: (02:32)

Extraordinary. Um, so if you were going into campus housing, you had to be tested roughly 12,000 undergraduates were tested over the past two weeks. It's only 13 proved to be positive, but that's not the end of it. They have to be tested at the five day mark. And then at the 10 day mark. So they're keeping very close watch on that. Anybody who uses the campus, if they're a student, faculty or staff member has to be, um, has to be vaccinated. And they've been, um, uh, you know, unfortunately that very strongly, the university says they're getting really strong compliance. So between the testing and the backs of nation, the university has a very low infection rate.

Speaker 1: (03:07)

Now, uh, you said that, um, the students and, and faculty in particular w told you that they were really so happy that this was an in-person class and not learning remotely, because there were a lot of problems that faculty picked up on in their remote classes. There's a survey that found that they believe student understanding of class material actually decreased last year. Is that right?

Speaker 2: (03:29)

And that is right. In fact, I talked to an engineering professor yesterday, who was saying how frustrated she was to have to teach remotely because a lot of students wouldn't turn on their camera, you know, while they were attending class. So there's the faculty member couldn't see the student's face. And a lot of students did that. So she would be looking at a screen and not seeing most of her students. And there would be times where she would ask a question, but a lot of students simply wouldn't respond because they didn't want their face to come up on the screen, which is what happens with audio. So she couldn't read people. Now, she had a big class yesterday over 200 students. And she told me that even with masks on, she could now read facial expressions of people standing in front of her and then made the whole process so much more.

Speaker 1: (04:12)

And a similar survey found that cheating increased last year with remote learning.

Speaker 2: (04:18)

Yeah. Because other students, um, could use any number of computers to go on, not in a use certain services that compile homework, for example. And in some cases what tests are like. So that was very hard for the unit, the university to monitor, you know, it was an honor system and you had just a lot of kids that were living at home with our parents in a room or a couch surfing. And there really was no one to closely watch what they were doing. For example, while they were taking tests. And the faculty member said that they felt that there was a significant increase in cheating.

Speaker 1: (04:49)

Is there any plan in place to shift back to remote learning? If the county starts to see a surge in cases in the coming months,

Speaker 2: (04:56)

It's already in place, you know, ready to go with that happens. They're hoping that it doesn't, but you know, you're, you'll remember that, uh, the university like others change very rapidly, so they're ready to do it. There's a cultural imperative, almost not to do it. You see San Diego is not big on online education. They've built this massive infrastructure and they want people to come there. They think of some most effective thing, but if there's a big outbreak that threatens what's going on, they will shift a lot of classes back online.

Speaker 1: (05:24)

Now you see San Diego is looking forward to a big event in November with which will increase access to the campus. Tell us about that.

Speaker 2: (05:32)

So on November 21, the blue line trolley service will begin operating. And as you know, there are a couple of stops at the university. Um, the one, the main one near that's near the library, they expect to bring in about 4,000 people per day. So that'll bring in not only students, but members of the public and the university is trying to reach out to the public to get them more involved in the university. As you know, the university is kind of an island in a sense, there's the ocean on one side of freeway on another, you know, a golf course on another, and you can't really see the university very well. And so that's led to a distancing between the campus and the community and the campus is trying to break that down by saying, please come to this university. And they're building all kinds of amenities to draw people like a major amphitheater under construction right now, new restaurants are opening up. The arts program is going to be much more intense. The university has gone to division one in basketball and they want the public to come on. So they're seeking a different relationship and that's going to mean over time. There will be a lot more people on campus

Speaker 1: (06:25)

Speaking with San Diego union Tribune, reporter Gary Robbins, Gary. Thank you so

Speaker 2: (06:29)

Much. You're welcome.

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