Campus Overview

About UC Santa Cruz

The University of California, Santa Cruz, has earned international distinction as a university with high-impact research and an uncommon commitment to teaching and public service.

A campus with world-class facilities and one of the most visually spectacular settings in higher education, UC Santa Cruz provides unparalleled opportunities for students to learn through hands-on experience. A commitment to environmental stewardship and community engagement are also central to UCSC's core values.

The campus, which opened in 1965 to 652 students, has grown to its current (2015-16) enrollment of more than 17,000 students. Undergraduates pursue bachelor's degrees in 65 different majors supervised by divisional deans of arts, engineering, humanities, physical & biological sciences, and social sciences. Graduate students work toward graduate certificates, master's degrees, or doctoral degrees in 41 academic programs under the supervision of the divisional and graduate deans.

High-achieving faculty, students, and alumni

Faculty and emeriti who have been attracted to Santa Cruz include 14 members of the National Academy of Sciences, 26 members of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and 35 members of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Overall faculty strength, as illustrated by the partial list of campus honors that follows, enables UCSC to offer high-quality programs in letters, arts, and science:

  • In the 2014-15 Times Higher Education world rankings, UC Santa Cruz was ranked first in research influence as measured by the number of times its faculty's published work is cited by scholars around the world. 
  • In another recent ranking, this one by the National Research Council, the campus was No. 1 in the nation for the publication impact of its computer engineering Ph.D. program. 
  • Similarly, UC Santa Cruz was listed 5th on Affordable Colleges Online’s list of the 20 Best Colleges for Computer Science majors and included in their top 20 best Colleges for English and Humanities majors. 

In fact, in competition with scholars throughout the United States, UCSC students and alumni have won National Science Foundation Fellowships, Fulbrights, and other prestigious awards in numbers that far exceed expectations for a campus of this size.

For more information, please see the Campus Achievements web site and the campus's An International Reputation for Excellence factsheet. A number alumni are also profiled on a special web site the campus created in honor of UC Santa Cruz's 45th anniversary in 2010. 

Undergraduate academic life and the residential colleges

All undergraduates, whether they live on campus or off, are affiliated with one of the UCSC colleges (Cowell, Stevenson, Crown, Merrill, Porter, Kresge, Oakes, Rachel Carson, Nine, and Ten). Although students take classes in any number of colleges and academic units throughout the campus, core courses within each college provide a common academic base for first-year and transfer students.

In addition to their course work on campus, many UCSC students participate in fieldwork or field study programs. Off-campus internships are an integral part of programs in community studies, economics, environmental studies, health sciences, Latin American and Latino studies, psychology, and teacher education. For more information about academic field study programs, as well as other available internships off campus, please see this web page.

Students also can arrange to study at other UC campuses, at the University of New Hampshire or the University of New Mexico, in Sacramento, in Washington, D.C., or at host institutions affiliated with the UC Education Abroad Program.

At the conclusion of work in their major, all UCSC seniors must pass a comprehensive examination or, in some majors, complete a senior thesis or equivalent body of work.

Expanding programs in graduate studies

Graduate study began at UCSC in 1966 with programs in astronomy, biology, and history of consciousness, a program that combines the humanistic disciplines with links to the social sciences, natural sciences, and arts. In 1967, graduate programs in chemistry, literature, and Earth & planetary sciences were introduced.

Today, UC Santa Cruz offers graduate study in 41 different advanced-degree programs. Please see the Graduate Studies web site for additional information.

Expanding programs in engineering

Building on UCSC’s core Computer Science and Computer Engineering Departments, in 1997, UCSC began its first professional school, the Jack Baskin School of Engineering, and introduced a new undergraduate electrical engineering major. This was followed in 1998 by a major in information systems management. In 1997-98, UCSC began offering a "distance-learning" version of the M.S. in computer engineering, with a concentration in networking engineering, at its Silicon Valley facilities. In 2001, an undergraduate major in bioinformatics was launched and, in 2003, M.S. and Ph.D programs in bioinformatics were initiated. The engineering school has continued to expand its academic offerings, and today students can enroll in 10 undergraduate and 8 graduate-degree programs.

In 2003, retired engineer and philanthropist Jack Baskin — whose $5 million gift had established UCSC's engineering school — made additional gifts to the campus for a new engineering building, Engineering 2, and that established an endowed chair in the Department of Biomolecular Engineering.

World-class research and grant funding

In conjunction with graduate teaching and intellectual inquiry, the campus is home to two Organized Research Units: the Institute of Marine Sciences and Santa Cruz Institute for Particle Physics. The University of California Observatories/Lick Observatory is a Multicampus Research Unit headquartered at UCSC. UC's Institute of Geophysics and Planetary Physics (IGPP), a Multicampus Research Unit, includes a branch on the UCSC campus established in 1999. UCSC also is one of several UC campuses sponsoring the Institute for Quantitative Biomedical Research (QB3), and the Center for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society (CITRIS), two of the California Institutes for Science and Innovation established in 2000-02. For a more complete list of research groups, please go to this research programs web site.

Over the years, UCSC researchers in these units have been generously supported by contracts and grants — speaking to the value of their research activities. In the past five years alone (2009-10 through 2013-14), support in this form totaled more than $686 million.

A 10-year, $330 million program establishing a University Affiliated Research Center (UARC) at NASA Ames was initiated in 2003. UARC provides research and educational capabilities to meet NASA's requirements and to develop future human resources in science and technology. The center received an “excellent” rating from NASA in fall 2008.

Private support

The ten UC Santa Cruz undergraduate colleges — each a separate community with its own buildings and administration — are built around a core of shared university facilities. These include the main and science/engineering libraries, performing arts buildings, visual arts studios, classrooms, computer facilities, and a complex of highly specialized buildings for the physical and biological sciences, and for engineering. Athletic facilities are provided on the east and west sides of the campus.

Significant private funds — more than $50 million in the 2013-14 year alone — have been donated to build or enhance academic, student-life, and other facilities at the campus, as well to fund programs, research, and scholarships.

In the fall of 2013, the campus publicly announced its first-ever comprehensive fundraising campaign. The generous support the campus received from donors in the 2013-14 year pushed the campaign dollars raised by the end of that year to more than $180 million. The campaign goal is $300 million.  

Architectural history

The campus was planned by architect John Carl Warnecke and landscape architect Thomas Church. Ralph Rapson designed the original Theater Arts Center. Antoine Predock of Albuquerque was the architect for the award-winning Music Center, and SRG Partnership of Portland, Oregon, for the Seymour Center at Long Marine Lab. The Engineering 2 Building, which was dedicated in fall 2004, won a merit award for design from the American Institute of Architects, Los Angeles Chapter. Anshen + Allen Los Angeles was the architect for Engineering 2.

The architects for the residential colleges were as follows: Cowell — Wurster, Bernardi & Emmons; Stevenson — Joseph Esherick & Associates; Crown — Ernest J. Kump Associates; Merrill — Campbell Wong & Associates and Wong & Brocchini; Porter — Hugh Stubbins and Associates; Kresge — MLTW/Moore-Turnbull; Oakes — McCue, Boone & Tomsick; Rachel Carson College — Simon Martin-Vegue Winkelstein Moris; Colleges Nine and Ten — Esherick Homsey Dodge and Davis.

Institutional growth and academic opportunity

UCSC is increasing both its enrollment and resources and diversifying its educational and research opportunities. New academic programs are being considered and added when desirable and feasible, the campus's physical growth is being guided by its most recent Long-Range Development Plan, and the campus in 2013-14 initiated a strategic planning process to identify priorities.

A number of state-of-the-art buildings have been completed on campus in recent years, including the Biomedical Sciences Building, the Humanities and Social Sciences Facility, the Digital Arts Research Facility, and the McHenry Library Addition. For current construction projects, please go to this Physical Planning & Construction web page.

UCSC also continues to move forward with its Silicon Valley Initiatives, building on an ever-expanding presence with business, industry, and other educational institutions in that key part of the San Francisco Bay Area.