UC Davis faculty make their predictions for 2016

Three Chinese girls playing Frisbee
Students from Asia, in particular from China, will continue to be the fastest growing group of international college students in the United States.

We asked some of our UC Davis faculty and researchers what they would predict in the new year in their particular fields of research and expertise. Those predictions appear below by topic.


Giovanni Peri, professor of economics; chair, Department of Economics

  • The number of international college students in the United States will reach 1.1 million; almost half of them will be from China. After growing steadily for the last several years and reaching almost 1 million students in 2015, we expect to see continued growth of international students in the United States. Students from Asia and in particular from China will continue to be the fastest growing group because of economic growth in the countries of origin, because of more active recruiting from U.S. universities and because of the strict limitations on other visas’ availability.
  • The number of Mexicans in the U.S. will decline in 2016. After stagnating for the last several years, the Mexican population is likely to continue its decline in the U.S.
  • As a consequence of these two trends, China will be the country with largest net migration to the United States in 2016. India will likely be the second largest country in terms of net immigration. Mexico will have negative net immigration.

Kevin Johnson, dean, UC Davis School of Law

  • I think that comprehensive immigration reform will have to wait for the next president.
  • I think that Congress may consider more anti-sanctuary-city legislation as well as refugee legislation designed to limit the president’s power to admit Muslim refugees.

ISIS (Islamic State)

Flagg Miller, professor of religious studies

Author of The Audacious Ascetic: What the Bin Laden Tapes Reveal about Al-Qa’ida (Hurst, Oxford University Press, 2015; author's website)

  • Despite international resolve to eradicate ISIS, the group’s continued survival will continue to imperil the civil liberties of American Muslims. In the shadow of the 2016 presidential race, the American electorate will grant intelligence and national security officials extraordinary license to conduct surveillance of Muslim communities. Around $3.3 billion of FBI’s $8.1 billion annual budget allocation remains earmarked for national security purposes, as opposed to just over $2.6 billion for criminal investigations. Despite the proportionately low number of terrorist or mass-killing acts committed by Muslims when compared with non-Muslim extremists over the past two decades, efforts to prosecute Muslims on grounds of preventing terrorism will reach an unprecedented level.

U.S. Supreme Court

Carlton Larson, professor, UC Davis School of Law

  • I predict that we will see more 5-4 decisions of a decidedly conservative bent. Last year’s term, in which liberals won most of the major cases, was aberrational.  

Lisa Pruitt, professor, UC Davis School of Law

  • The U.S. Supreme Court is likely to further curtail women’s right to terminate a pregnancy by upholding as constitutional Texas regulations of abortion providers, regulations that have had the effect of closing dozens of abortion clinics since their passage in 2013.

Kevin Johnson, dean, UC Davis School of Law

  • I think that the big case to watch is Texas v. United States, currently before the U.S. Supreme Court. The issue in the case surrounds the legality of President Obama’s expanded deferred action program announced in November 2014.
  • Another case that the Supreme Court may review is Hernandez v. Mesa, which addresses the legal questions surrounding a Border Patrol officer’s shooting of an unarmed Mexican national at the border.

Learning in the first three years of life

Ross Thompson, distinguished professor of psychology; affiliate, Center for Poverty Research

  • This will be the next big thing as research is showing it isn’t just vocabulary, but also number sense, causal reasoning, and understanding of people that develops during this time. And it will cause us to rethink the large and small influences in the brain and the home that contribute to these developments.

Public policy, presidency, elections

Marianne Page, professor of economics; deputy director, Center for Poverty Research

  • In 2015, most of the public and political discourse on the efficacy of the U.S. safety net was rhetorical. I am hopeful that 2016 will bring a shift toward evidence-based policies that affect the poor.

Lisa Pruitt, professor, UC Davis School of Law; affiliate, UC Davis Center for Poverty Research

  • The candidates for U.S. president will pay moderate lip service to the concerns of rural Americans, including rural poverty, but regardless of who is elected, s/he is unlikely to institute any major changes or programs to enhance rural livelihoods.  

Mindy S. Romero, director, California Civic Engagement Project at the UC Davis Center for Regional Change

  • Latinos likely will set a record for percentage of California voters in 2016.
  • The strength of California’s younger voters could rival the high youth turnout in 2008. 
  • 2016 will be the year of the independent voter. No-party-preference voters will influence the 2016 elections to a degree we’ve never seen before.

Food and innovation

J. Bruce German, professor, Department of Food Science and Technology; director, Foods for Health Institute

  • The world’s food enterprise today is a commodity-driven, brand-valued, food product-centric marketplace built largely on a cost-driven profit model. Thanks to scientific research and innovation, this model will change to a diet-driven, health-valued, consumer-centric and knowledge-based system. Today, individual foods attempt to claim valuable properties through advertising and labels. In truth, it is the entire diet that matters, and hence the future will see personal, smart technologies keeping track of what we do and what we like and, drawing from a scientific knowledge cloud, guide all of our choices of foods and beverages. Building that knowledge cloud of food and health is one of the ongoing objectives of UC Davis.

Cleveland Justis, executive director, UC Davis Child Family Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship

  • Food, health and wellness will continue to dominate startups at UC Davis. The 2016 Big Bang! Business Competition already has 24 teams registered, many in these fields. And, given the current focus on climate issues at the international, national and state levels, we anticipate that clean energy will begin a comeback. One example: the Big Bang! will award a significant new prize — the SynGas Challenge — that reflects a renewed interest in the promise of clean energy.

Andrew Hargadon, Charles J. Soderquist Chair in Entrepreneurship, UC Davis Graduate School of Management; faculty director, UC Davis Child Family Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship

Author of Sustainable Innovation: Build Your Company’s Capacity to Change the World (Stanford University Press, 2015)

  • The most successful and forward-looking entrepreneurial ventures will be based on “uncommon collaborations” — innovative partnerships among business, government, scientists and NGOs that consciously and deliberately seek out the talent, knowledge, skills and perspectives that accelerate commercialization.

The environment: water, air, lighting … and bicycling

Susan Handy, environmental policy professor; director, National Center for Sustainable Transportation 

  • Bicycling will continue to grow in importance as a mode of transportation in urban areas. As the hoverboard fad fades, old-fashioned skateboard travel will become more popular. Reports of conflicts between pedestrians, bicyclists, skateboarders and others will rise.

Nicholas Pinter, professor, Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences

  • California’s weather is driven by the Pacific Ocean, and the Pacific is right now approaching the near-record El Niño conditions. Although a recent op-ed warned of floods of “biblical proportions,” the truth is that regional flooding across California is not simply correlated with El Niño. However, concern is warranted, as El Niño changes our risk landscape. Californians should prepare for increased probabilities of locally heavy rain or snow, including elevated potential for localized flooding, debris flows and other consequences of El Niño-driven weather.

Michael Siminovitch, director, California Lighting Technology Center; professor of design 

  • Lighting design and technology is rapidly moving to a focus on enhanced well-being, health and comfort. We will continue our efforts toward addressing sustainability and carbon goals, but the newest innovations in technology and design will be on human factors issues related to health and well-being. This human-focused design is in its early days, and we will see this accelerate rapidly over the next few years.

Chelsea Rochman, marine ecologist, UC Davis Aquatic Health Program

  • The attention on marine plastic debris has shifted to smaller items of plastic and land-based sources. As a consequence, reports of synthetic fibers and micro- and nano-sized plastic fragments in aquatic habitats globally will likely increase. Moreover, we will continue to see increases in proposed legislation and infrastructure aimed at stopping plastics on land before they enter the sea, such as banning microbeads from personal care products and improved technologies for waste management.

Sonia Yeh, research scientist, UC Davis Institute of Transportation Studies

  • For the year 2016, we will see more awareness toward reducing greenhouse gas emissions to limit the warming to 2 or 1.5 degrees Celsius agreed at the Paris climate summit. In the U.S., federal regulations on fuel efficiency will continue to keep the oil demand from growing. Advanced automobile technologies ranging from better batteries to various degrees of automation in new high-end vehicles will continue to penetrate the market. We will also probably continue to see more smartphone-based innovative mobility services providing more flexible automobility to consumers. Globally, countries such as China and India must get more serious about reducing emissions from cars and trucks to control increasingly toxic air pollution levels.

Ted Grosholz, professor, Department of Environmental Science and Policy 

  • Oceans and coastal ecosystems are being increasingly degraded by multiple stressors. Climate change is likely to push these heavily stressed systems beyond observable tipping points and into undesirable states. For example, the intrusion of acidic, upwelled waters and storm-based river inflows into coastal estuaries will continue to negatively impact commercial shellfisheries and the health of native shellfish populations. Also, rising ocean temperatures will result in more algal blooms that are harmful and in pathogenic diseases that will mean more die-offs of coastal species.

Rick Grosberg, director, Coastal and Marine Sciences Institute

  • Rising sea levels will become a major factor in coastal planning, especially after big storms this winter. Sustainable mariculture and aquaculture will be increasingly important to help supplement and sustain recreational and commercial fisheries in California and beyond.

Media Resources

Karen Nikos-Rose, Research news (emphasis: arts, humanities and social sciences), 530-219-5472, kmnikos@ucdavis.edu

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