Earlier this week, UC Berkeley announced it received a record-breaking 128,100 applicants this year. This news broke in the midst of a court battle requiring UC Berkeley to freeze enrollment- a freeze that will result in one-third fewer enrollment seats than planned for the 2022-2023 school year.
Last night, UC Berkeley lost the battle when the California Supreme Court rejected the university’s request to halt the enrollment freeze ordered by a lower court last month. The California Appeal court ruled that UC Berkeley must freeze student enrollment at 42,347, the same number as 2020-2021. UC Berkeley Chancellor Carol Christ noted that the extreme impact of this order, as 2020 enrollment was especially low due to the pandemic.
This ruling stems from a legal battle brought forth against UC Berkeley by a resident group, Save Berkeley’s Neighborhoods. As reported by Josh Moody of Inside Higher Ed, the group “sued on California Environmental Quality Act grounds because the university did not consider the environmental impact that increasing enrollment would have on local neighborhoods.” Additionally, as reported by Maria Cramer of The New York Times, the group has “accused the university of failing to provide enough on-campus housing while at the same time admitting high numbers of students, many of them from out of state or other countries.” Phil Bokovoy, the group’s president, said that “since 2005, U.C. Berkeley had admitted 14,000 students but had provided only 1,600 beds.” This has prompted students to seek housing in Berkeley’s neighborhoods, where they have “mov[ed] into apartments that were once rent-controlled and displac[ed] low-income and middle-income residents.” The resulting housing shortage had created a “massive amount of homelessness in Berkeley.” While homelessness is a major issue faced by the city of Berkeley, cutting enrollment to deserving students is not the solution.
Due to the enrollment freeze, UC Berkeley has laid out different options for the incoming Class of 2026. Usually, Berkeley “offers admission to about 21,000 first-year and transfer students, and about 9,500 of them enroll.” Many students will be offered admission as usual. Additionally, about 1,500 undergraduate students will be offered one of two options. The New York Times reports “one group will be asked to study as online-only students in the fall and will then be allowed to attend in person in January 2023. A second group will be offered deferred enrollment to begin attending in person in January 2023. All told, officials said, they will be able to reduce the number of students who won’t be allowed to enroll at all to about 400.”
Universities need to be mindful of their impact on the environment and community around them. UC Berkeley should make sure its new developments meet environmental standards and do not hurt the local town by displacing residents. UC Berkeley must also work to mitigate the housing shortage that its students are facing. However, cutting enrollment only prevents deserving students from attending a top state university. We hope that UC Berkeley can work with the community group, Save Berkeley’s Neighborhoods, to find an alternative solution.