CSUB has always been a steward and champion of our neighborhood, even before Bakersfield grew out to meet us in what was then the far southwest. This is our home. And, like our friends and fellow southwest Bakersfield residents, we care deeply about what happens in our home.

That is why we stand with our neighbors in urging the city of Bakersfield to reject a private developer’s plan to build student housing on the corner of Stockdale Highway and Coffee Road, one of the busiest intersections in Bakersfield. Risks to pedestrian safety, increased traffic and uncertainty over how the complex may be used in the future are among the potential problems the project represents.

But the issue has started a conversation that is well worth having: where should CSUB students live?

The answer is simple: right here on campus.

It is here on campus where students focus on their studies and have access to professors, the library, research facilities, cultural opportunities and other resources necessary for their success.

It is here on campus where students learn to balance independence with responsibility and the opportunities for growth that come with being part of a community they themselves are building.

It is here on campus where students are exposed to people from different cultures and backgrounds, an experience that enriches their lives forever.

It is by living here on campus that students greatly increase their odds of graduating, a result supported by years of research on the benefits of student housing.

And just as CSUB benefits resident students, resident students benefit CSUB and our region by becoming active and engaged stewards of the community, now and after graduation.

A metropolitan university

On the cusp of our 50th anniversary in 2020, CSUB is taking stock of where we’ve been, where we are now and envisioning the kind of university we wish to be in the decades to come. It’s an incredibly exciting and empowering time for our students, faculty, staff and community.

As we embark on charting our course, one thing is clear already: we must change any lingering perception of CSUB as a “commuter campus,” a term that implies distance, both literal and figurative, between the school and the students we serve. Bakersfield is a metropolitan city and deserves a metropolitan university.

And that’s precisely what CSUB is in the process of becoming.

Our student population achieved a milestone this semester, topping 11,000; our students, faculty and staff are developing a strategic plan to take us places we’ve never been before; and we will soon embark on an ambitious fundraising campaign to expand our university into new frontiers of research and innovation.

Behind every plan and goal is one galvanizing dream shared by all on campus: Securing CSUB’s place as the region’s intellectual capital, a culture that nurtures excellence and ingenuity, where research leads to breakthroughs, and ideas build upon ideas, creating their own momentum.

Envy of the CSU system

But a fire that burns that bright needs to be tended. Universities that are recognized as the epicenter of thought in their respective communities all have an engaged population of student residents who stoke the fires of intellectual curiosity all day, every day, all year.

I’m pleased to report that the students who live on the CSUB campus are doing that. We just need more of them.

In 2014, CSUB opened a beautiful, modern, secure student housing complex that is the envy of the CSU system. Student Housing Director Crystal Becks reports that students who live in the complex have developed a sense of family and pride in their community and are thriving academically. Parents appreciate knowing their students are safe and supported while navigating a major transition in their young lives. In fact, student housing staffers talk to at least one parent a day.

Still, in spite of the greater affordability of living on campus and academic merits, the occupancy rate of CSUB housing is just 64 percent. That figure tells us we can do better. To that end, CSUB is listening to students and parents and working on a plan to make life on campus even more fulfilling. We will unveil the changes when housing enrollment opens on May 1.

There’s a spirit, a spark to a university with a robust student population. That’s what we want for our students and for our campus.

As a student who lives and works in CSUB’s student housing told me, “It confused me when I heard people call CSUB a ‘commuter campus.’ This is where I live. This is where my heart is. Bakersfield is where I want to stay.”

Lynnette Zelezny, Ph.D., is the president of Cal State Bakersfield. Her office can be reached at (661) 654-2241.