The University of Arizona has a total enrollment of approximately 39,000 students today, all but 1,500 of whom attend class on the main Tucson campus. That ranks the UA among the 20 or so largest campuses in the United States.
About 35 years ago, UA enrollment was just greater than 21,000, placing it 29th in size of U.S. universities.
Thirty-five years from now, who knows how many students will be enrolled at the UA? Mike Proctor doesn't want to speculate.
"A lot will change after that," Proctor, vice provost for outreach and global initiatives, says of enrollment projections beyond 2020. "We'll have to be able to adjust to (financial)-resource availability with a workable plan."
Last month, the Arizona Board of Regents was informed that the UA could reach a total enrollment of 52,000 by the end of this decade—but several steps are being taken to diminish the impact of an ever-growing student population on the main campus.
"We have a close collaboration with community colleges," reports Proctor, specifically mentioning Pima Community College and Cochise College.
Proctor anticipates the vast majority of the 13,000 additional students will not usually be in main-campus classrooms. Instead, he thinks they'll attend a community college or the UA South campus in Sierra Vista.
"They'll be able to get a B.A. degree there without going to the main campus," Proctor says.
Based on this shift to other campuses, enrollment on the main campus is anticipated to be 42,000 by 2020—a figure that is still considerably higher than numbers previously discussed.
Almost 20 years ago, a proposal was made to limit the main campus to 35,000 students. The enrollment "cap" grew to 40,000 in 2003, and that same year, a comprehensive campus plan was prepared to eventually serve about 44,000 students. To accomplish that, the plan showed intense building density on the 490-acre campus.
Now the enrollment "cap" has been removed completely. According to a 2009 update of the campus plan, more than 50,000 students will eventually be accommodated, "largely due to moderate increases in future core campus building heights."
However, Peter Dourlein doesn't anticipate the campus expanding beyond its current boundaries. Dourlein, director of the university's Department of Planning, Design and Construction, points out that there are surface parking lots and low-density residential units within the boundaries that offer infill potential.
Dourlein adds that even with the increase in campus density, it's vital to preserve what he calls "treasured open spaces." He also says: "We can expand our indoor square footage by about one-third within the boundaries."
Both John Patterson, from the West University Neighborhood, and Mark Homan, who lives in the Rincon Heights Neighborhood south of campus, have been involved with university issues for years—and they have mostly positive things to say about the direction the UA is taking.
"The UA transportation folks are doing a good job on alternatives (to the automobile)," Homan observes. He also says: "The dorms on campus go a long way toward relieving (housing) pressure."
Homan suggests that one way to additionally diminish the impacts of a growing student population is to make the campus more of an all-day area for classes and other activities.
"It will challenge the UA to have an efficient use of space on campus during different times of the day, including more evening hours," he says. "That would make the campus alive during the entire day."
Homan says he still has concerns that the UA may eventually want to expand the boundary line that figuratively separates it from surrounding neighborhoods. "We're always nervous the UA is going to ooze out, but so far, they have been good about adhering to their agreements."
Patterson shares Homan's concerns about potential UA "oozing." He also says: "We used to be so worried about (campus) boundaries, but the UA presence in downtown makes that kind of moot."
The university is pursuing both housing for hundreds of students and classroom space in downtown Tucson.
Patterson thinks the growing enrollment will put additional pressure on the "transition" zone located between Park and Euclid avenues south of Speedway Boulevard. "It will certainly become more dense," he suggests of this area between the campus and the neighborhood.
The Marshall Foundation controls much of the land in that "transition" zone with its Main Gate Square commercial development and other retail and office projects. The foundation's executive director, Jane McCollum, sees good things coming from a growing student population.
"It's extremely positive to have more customers," she observes. "They help stabilize our small businesses."
With 3,100 nearby parking spaces, McCollum says, "There's plenty of parking, and the garages are never full." Instead, McCollum chuckles, it's bicycles, not automobiles, that are of concern. "Bike racks are a bigger issue," she indicates.
The Marshall Foundation has talked for several years about adding to its commercial development west of the campus. This proposal includes a movie theater and new retail space.
McCollum says progress continues to be made on the long-anticipated project. She hopes zoning meetings on the proposal will be held "within the next few months."