It’s Official: Thanks to a Local Lawsuit, Berkeley Must Reduce Enrollment by Thousands
The California Supreme Court on Thursday denied a request by the University of California at Berkeley to stay a lower-court ruling requiring it to reduce and then freeze enrollment at 2020-2021 levels. The decision means that thousands of students who would have been accepted to the university’s flagship campus won’t get an offer this spring.
“This is devastating news for the thousands of students who have worked so hard for and have earned a seat in our fall 2022 class,” the university said in a written statement.
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The California Supreme Court on Thursday denied a request by the University of California at Berkeley to stay a lower-court ruling requiring it to reduce and then freeze enrollment at 2020-2021 levels.
The decision — which leaves intact a lower court’s order that will reduce and then freeze enrollment at levels that were already low because of the Covid-19 pandemic — means that Berkeley will have to reduce the number of new, in–person undergraduate seats by at least 2,500 for the fall 2022 semester. Around 400 students whom the university had planned to enroll won’t be offered letters of acceptance at all.
Here’s how the university will try to accommodate others: Of the 2,500 in-person seats it needs to cut, at least 1,500 will be incoming first-year and transfer students, according to a campus spokesman, Dan Mogulof. Half of that group will be admitted to attend online for the first semester and allowed to enroll in person in January 2023. The other half will be admitted in January 2023, but there won’t be room for them to attend online in the fall of 2022. The university can accommodate more students in the spring, since some students graduate after the fall semester.
UC-Berkeley revised its figures Monday afternoon after determining how many students wouldn’t be counted if they weren’t physically on campus in the fall. The university will also be factoring in hundreds of other continuing students who are in off-campus programs.
“When all is said and done, thousands of students won’t have the in-person, on-campus experience they deserve and expected” this fall, Mogulof said.
The enrollment-cap order resulted from a lawsuit filed against Berkeley, University of California regents, and other parties in 2019 by a group called Save Berkeley’s Neighborhoods. The group argued that Berkeley hadn’t adequately considered how its growth in recent years has affected housing prices, as well as traffic, crime, and noise in surrounding neighborhoods.
The group issued a statement on Thursday accusing the university of creating the problem by increasing its enrollment without providing enough housing for students. “We’d like to assure deserving California high school students that we are as disappointed as they are that UC has tried to use them as pawns in UC’s attempts to avoid mitigating the impacts” from enrollment increases, it said. The group contends that housing shortages have been particularly difficult for low-income students.
Mogulof, the Berkeley spokesman, called that accusation “absurd,” saying that “some of these same litigants have sued us over every recent housing project we have tried to launch.”
Berkeley is working with state legislators to find ways to mitigate the impacts of a mandated reduction that it said could affect other University of California campuses. The decision comes at a time of record-breaking applications to the University of California system. “We know that access and opportunity for prospective UC students remains a priority not just for the university but also the state’s policy makers, as reflected in the recent state budget proposal for enrollment at UC,” the Berkeley statement said.
The university said it will prioritize California residents for fall in-person undergraduate enrollment and will maintain its commitment to students who are transferring in.
“We are a residential university and we would like all students to have a full, rich in-person experience starting in the fall when all of their classmates enroll,” the statement says. “However, we believe this effort is preferable to drastically reducing the number of offers of admissions and denying so many students a Berkeley education. We have designed this strategy so that if the legislature provides relief very soon, we can pivot to making more in-person offers for the fall.”
Gov. Gavin Newsom’s office wrote in a tweet that the enrollment decision “is against everything we stand for — new pathways to success, attracting tomorrow’s leaders, making college more affordable.”
Update (March 3, 2022, 8:48 p.m.): This article has been updated with revised figures on the number of students who will be allowed to be physically on campus and with a response from the university's spokesman.