Humboldt State University

An entrance to Humboldt State University surrounded by woods.

Humboldt State University

An entrance to Humboldt State University surrounded by woods.

The Humboldt State, the northernmost and arguably most beautiful of the 23 California State University locations, is experiencing an identity crisis.

Perched on the hills between Arcata Bay and a redwood forest 100 miles from the Oregon border, Humboldt State has lost enrollment dramatically and steadily over the past five years. The total number of students has shrunk by 26% since 2015 to 6,430 last fall. Even more worrying, the number of freshmen has fallen by 61% to 546 in those years.

Efforts are currently being made to possibly reverse this enrollment trend and rename the campus identity, losing its reputation in some circles as a hippie-vibe institution in a remote art town.

The State of Humboldt has started a study to consider converting a campus of general interest with lauded environmental programs into the CSU’s third polytechnic university with a stronger focus on science, technology and engineering.

Such a change would be the first of its kind in CSU history and would potentially open seats in MINT majors for applicants who are ousted in more popular locations, officials say. This could also lead to more research funding from the federal government and the private sector.

A Cal Poly Humboldt would “become increasingly attractive to students from all over California and beyond, and create a robust and stable student body for undergraduate and graduate students,” wrote former CSU systems chancellor Timothy White in the November letter calling on campus to do one such to investigate conversion.

Many details are not yet known. These include: Which programs and majors can be added or expanded? What would the cost be? When could that happen? And perhaps least of all, would the change attract thousands more students from the population centers of Los Angeles, a 12-hour drive away, and San Francisco Bay, a five-hour drive?

With population declining in far northern California, a turn in Humboldt’s fortune would require the campus to attract students from across the state.

Giovanni Guerrero, a fourth-year student from San Diego in charge of foreign policy for the Humboldt student government, believes most students would support the change to “attract more attention and investment in the university and increase enrollment . “A Cal Poly name, as the existing Cal Poly locations in San Luis Obispo and Pomona show,” has this prestige in it. “

Giovanni Guerrero, a student leader of the Humboldt State, supports Cal Poly’s idea.

He chose Humboldt because the seaside and rural location is such a big change from his family’s urban home on the other side of the state. “I loved the outdoors,” said Guerrero. He was also drawn to the school’s prestigious environmental science and management program that is now his major.

However, he said he understands why other southern California students think Humboldt is too remote and that Arcata, once a center of the timber industry, is too small a town. While Latinos like him now account for 33% of Humboldt’s enrollments, Guerrero said the university doesn’t provide enough support for color students. Some of these students may not be comfortable in Arcata, where an overwhelming proportion of the 19,000 residents are white.

A tragic episode also damaged the university’s image. In April 2017, David Josiah Lawson, a black college student, was stabbed to death at an off-campus party in Arcata. The police arrested a suspect and released him. The case is considered unsolved.

The murder resulted in some parents preventing their children from visiting Humboldt. Before recreational marijuana became legal, some families were concerned about a drug use culture at a school near the area’s cannabis growers.

Last year, the pandemic and the switch to online courses across the CSU also affected Humboldt enrollment.

  • Founded in 1913 as a teacher training college.
  • The hotel is located in Arcata, 270 miles north of San Francisco. 144 acres on the main campus; 591 additional acres of marshland, forests, lakes and dunes for research purposes.
  • Enrollment: 5,869 students; 562 PhD students.
  • Student Home Area: Los Angeles, 28%; Humboldt & nearby counties, 17%; San Francisco Bay, 12%; Northern California, 11%.
  • Race / Ethnicity of Students: White, 45%; Latinos, 33%; Blacks, 3%; Asians, 3%; Indians, 1%.
  • Most Popular Major Subjects: Psychology, Biology, Business Management, Environmental Science, Wildlife, Education, Kinesiology, Zoology, Forestry, Environmental Resource Engineering.

The faculty stresses that switching to a Cal Poly wouldn’t be a huge burden. Some estimate that the campus already has 80% of the courses and programs needed for the new designation.

The State of Humboldt offers popular degrees in biology, chemistry, nursing and computer science and is promoting applicants for majors in fisheries biology, oceanography and wildlife. Even his mascot, Lucky the Lumberjack, reflects that spirit outdoors. (However, some students would like it to be changed to something less patriarchal and less evocative of clearing forests.)

According to reports, the university already has the third-highest percentage of CSU students participating in STEM programs – right behind Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and Cal Poly Pomona, authorities said.

It continues a tradition of hands-on and on-site learning, another major hallmark that sets a Cal Poly apart from regular locations.

However, the campus does not offer the traditional construction, mechanical, or electrical engineering popular with other Cal Polys. All of these may not be needed as much for a new breed of Cal Poly as health, sustainable agriculture, cybersecurity, fire safety, and climate change programs, say advocates of the change.

Mark Wilson, a biology professor who is vice chairman of the university’s Senate, noted that Humboldt’s location makes it a good place to expand biological and applied sciences like forestry, wildlife, and fisheries rather than trying the other Cal Polys too replicate. “I don’t think the goal or vision is for us to become like them. The location here and the natural surroundings would really make a different university. “

He added, “We want to embrace this idea of ​​a 21st century polytechnic university and not just rely on an old vision.”

The decline in enrollment at Humboldt makes admission easier in most programs than in the two existing Cal Polys. According to the university, only Wildlife and Nursing majors are “affected” at Humboldt, which means that most applicants for these overcrowded majors must submit academic records that are one step above basic CSU eligibility. In contrast, all majors in San Luis Obispo are affected, as are 20 majors in Pomona.

These existing Cal Polys have increased their enrollments over the past five years, with Pomona rising the most at 25%. Even in that pandemic year, Pomona and San Luis Obispo grew 6.4% and 4.9%, respectively, while Humboldt’s enrollment fell 7.9%.

Jenn Capps, Humboldt’s provost and vice president for academic affairs, said the campus will continue to focus on social justice even with an impersonation. The university would focus on “Science Serving Society,” she said, referring to research and professional training to solve problems like climate change and health inequalities.

Humboldt State University

Sunset time at Humboldt State University.

Capps is co-chair of the campus study group and is investigating the possible move. With widespread support on campus for the change, the study is more likely to look at how to do it than if it should happen, she said. Subgroups focus on topics such as academic planning, facilities, student success, fundraising, and others. A total of at least 100 faculties and employees are active in these committees.

A summary report can be completed by summer or autumn and then submitted to the CSU Board of Trustees, which would have to approve it. Special funding from the legislature may also be required. New and expanded programs could be rolled out gradually starting around two years old, officials said

Some fear the change could inadvertently weaken the humanities and arts studies.

However, this is not necessarily the case, according to Alison Wrynn, the CSU system’s deputy vice chancellor for academic programs, innovation and faculty development. She noted that the San Luis Obispo and Pomona sites “still have solid humanities and arts departments,” and stressed that even majors in science still have liberal arts courses to complete.

The arts and humanities faculty were initially concerned about a Cal Poly designation, said Heather Madar, chair of the arts department. Assuring that the university would continue to value these areas, she said opinions had shifted to “cautious optimism about how this would work for us”. There could be more interdisciplinary studies that combine science with the arts and social sciences, “consider a polytechnic and fill it with the Humboldt spirit,” she said.

Humboldt State University

The students took part in a socially distant homecoming parade in the Humboldt State.

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