San Francisco Continues Efforts to Strengthen Downtown Through Higher Education

San Francisco's mayor wants help from colleges, including historically Black institutions, to fill vacant buildings and bring more residents to the city's downtown area.
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Published on July 8, 2024
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  • The Black 2 San Francisco program welcomed 60 students from historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) across the country to study in San Francisco for the summer.
  • The initiative aims to establish satellite campus partnerships with HBCUs and offers students paid internships in various city departments.
  • The mayor previously proposed that the University of California open a campus in downtown San Francisco, but UC declined due to budget concerns.

The focus on revitalizing downtown San Francisco, which has been struggling with vacant buildings since the pandemic, has become a key priority for local politicians.

Mayor London Breed's proposed solution would bring colleges, including historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs), downtown to fill the spaces, revitalizing the area while bolstering education and diversity in the city.

At the State of the City address, Breed laid out her 30 by 30 initiative, which aims to bring 30,000 new residents and students to downtown San Francisco by 2030. To achieve this goal, Breed says the city will create more housing and work with existing and new higher education partners, including HBCUs, to make downtown a center of excellence.

Imagine that! Students, professors, researchers, and employees walking from dorm room to classroom, from startup to conference space, from the Ferry Building to City Hall, Breed said.

Cross-pollinating ideas, cross-pollinating companies. We will be leading the way in AI (artificial intelligence), climate tech, and biotech and things we haven't even yet imagined. Housing, students, innovation — that's our future.

So far, Breed has welcomed the first group of HBCU students to the city as part of the Black 2 San Francisco (B2SF) program, but her efforts to recruit colleges to open new campuses downtown are still ongoing.

Bringing HBCUs to the Bay Area

Last month, the inaugural student cohort of the B2SF program arrived in the city, marking the initial phase of Breed's long-term goal of bringing HBCUs to the Bay Area.

The cohort of scholars includes 60 undergraduates from 20 HBCUs participating in paid internships across over 30 city and county departments, including the district and city attorney's office, fire department, arts commission, and recreation and parks department.

During the internship period, students will live in University of San Francisco student housing and attend classes at the university's downtown campus.

We have created a program to elevate San Francisco's premier education institutions and make our city a more diverse and inclusive place, and it's with great joy that we welcome the first cohort of HBCU students to San Francisco this summer, Breed said in a statement.

... I am also pleased to see all the ways B2SF sustains our city's goals to enliven downtown, educate the next generation of leaders, and encourage new residents to lay down roots in San Francisco.

While there are no HBCUs in California, the state is home to the Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science, a historically Black graduate institution (HBGI).

However, Huston-Tillotson University (HTU) has announced plans to establish the first HBCU satellite campus in the state.

Incoming first-year or transfer students will have the opportunity to attend a six-week program at HTU's main campus in Austin, Texas, before enrolling in one of the university's satellite campuses at the University of La Verne or in San Diego.

I have been asked for years by California residents to please bring an HBCU to California. Students have yearned for an HBCU experience in California. ... We are so excited to be able to bring the HBCU experience to California, Dr. Theresa Price, founder of the National College Resources Foundation, said in a press release.

Opening Downtown College Campuses

Though Breed's plan to bring in HBCU students to help revitalize downtown San Francisco through the B2SF program has shown success, other proposed strategies have faced challenges.

She previously proposed that the University of California (UC) consider opening a downtown San Francisco campus.

In a letter to Richard Leib, chair of the UC Board of Regents, Breed said the availability of properties downtown, combined with the rise of artificial intelligence and biotechnology sectors, makes San Francisco the ideal location for a UC campus.

We believe that bringing students to a city that is both brimming with culture and serves as the region's economic powerhouse provides them with the opportunity to learn and live in a vibrant and world-class metropolitan center, and could also serve to alleviate some of your critical student housing shortfalls at both UC Berkeley and UC San Francisco, Breed wrote in the July 2023 letter to Leib.

However, UC has pushed back against that idea, saying a new campus would be too expensive.

Given the outlook for state appropriations and the financial capacity of our campuses, the university is not considering establishing any new campuses or other new facilities in the city of San Francisco at this time, UC spokesperson Ryan King told the San Francisco Chronicle.

Multiple institutions — including Northwestern University, Northeastern University, the University of Pennsylvania, and Carnegie Mellon University — have already established satellite campuses in San Francisco and Silicon Valley with a focus on business and technology education programs.

In total, there are 12 college and university campuses in the city, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.