The proposed STEM high school on UCR’s campus is not a boon for the campus or the local community
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The proposed STEM high school on UCR’s campus is not a boon for the campus or the local community

Courtesy of Aronne Chan

The recent public review and hearing of the draft Environmental Impact Report (EIR) on the Riverside Unified School District (RUSD) Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) high school has raised several issues. The school is intended to serve 1200 students and 60 faculty members. The goal is to expand STEM education and college preparedness, but this plan falls short. Furthermore, while the proposed educational center is a great idea in theory, the current plan puts the needs of and may put undue strain on the existing campus community.

The center is supposed to be built next to the campus Baseball Complex at W. Blaine Street and Canyon Crest Drive, including a 153-space parking lot and bus drop-off zone. This is insufficient to meet the transportation needs of potential students while not burdening University of California, Riverside (UCR) students. At the public hearing, it was pointed out that the Draft EIR did not base traffic forecasting on realistic data. Specifically, numbers were not taken during peak traffic hours and were also done when UCR’s campus was closed due to COVID-19. Not measuring traffic when students are even on campus is incredibly misleading and is generating very reasonable concern. UCR comprises 70% commuter students, and freshmen are not required to live on campus. These students need the roads not to be clogged with new and barely competent drivers. The fact that this report uses severely compromised data indicates that the university and the campus community must anticipate that the education center will interfere with their commutes.

UCR students are also concerned that their access to resources will be negatively impacted despite being charged upwards of $13,000 yearly to attend college. Families and students spend years saving enough money to pay tuition and other college expenses, and that sacrifice cannot be rewarded with campus additions that detract from their education. Additionally, the project will repurpose campus recreational space, and the plan to compensate for that loss is still being worked on. The RUSD STEM educational center will be funded with RUSD resources and is said to be “entirely self-contained.” Hopefully, this is accurate, but there is no feasible way to keep the educational center’s high-school-aged students from bleeding onto campus. 

Currently, the plan prohibits STEM students from leaving school grounds for lunch and prohibits them from utilizing campus dining facilities. It is unclear how they will enforce this and how questionable those methods would be. Unless the school plans to keep the students gated in, there is no way to stop them from walking onto campus. There would also be very little way to tell the difference between them and any number of high school students touring the campus. UCR is a public campus, and the people who go in and out are not closely monitored. UCR’s campus is for UCR students who pay the astronomical tuition and fees to maintain and use it, not for high school students to wander around and disrupt it.

Courtesy of Layna Lapikas / The Highlander

It’s also concerning that the property tax, Measure O, which was paid for by Riverside residents, will be funding an education center that will not require students to live in the district. Asking the Riverside community to invest in STEM education without guaranteeing that members of the paying community will be able to access those publicly funded resources is a point of contention for the Associated Students of UCR (ASUCR) and the University Neighborhood Association.

UCR’s motives for this are also a source of apprehension as it tries to improve its reputation and social mobility ranking. It might also have something to do with tax cuts for the university after they sold the land to RUSD for a pittance of a one-dollar-a-year lease. Most importantly, UCR is a STEM school, so creating a direct pipeline of STEM students to attend their institution increases research, credibility and the overall educational program. While none of these things are inherently bad, introducing a high school educational center on campus is not the most effective way to address a lack of college preparedness and a scarcity of STEM opportunities for high school students.

An inequitable lack of access to college preparedness resources for high school students is incredibly prevalent, and that burden needs to fall on high schools. This project could have a positive impact without having to be on UCR’s campus. Colleges like UCR can offer outreach programs, opportunities to visit campus and summer programs for STEM students. Still, chances for high school students should not come at the cost of the higher education experience.

UCR has to prioritize the needs of the students it is already serving. This education center is a grand and bold idea that, sadly, lacks the foresight and structure needed to make it successful and not a hindrance to campus life. There is no opposition to ensuring children have access to world-class education and research facilities, but there has to be a better way to do it.

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