California’s Supreme Court has ruled that UC Berkeley must cut admissions substantially this year. As a result of this ruling, Berkeley will have to cut 3,000 incoming students.
In a case that has drawn national attention, the ruling deals a blow to thousands of applicants to the prestigious public university and will cost millions in lost tuition, the university says. The decision favors neighbors who are trying to get the campus to stop adding new students without providing enough housing for them.
The ruling also means UC Berkeley will withhold acceptance letters from more than 5,000 qualified freshman and transfer applicants, not all of whom would have enrolled.
“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. Our fight on behalf of every one of these students continues,” the campus wrote in a statement following the Supreme Court decision.
UC Berkley is one of the most competitive schools in the UC system along with UCLA and UC Irvine. Berkley was set to have a total student body of just over 45,000 students after this year’s enrollment but this ruling means the school is frozen at 2020 enrollment levels. And because not every student who is accepted at Berkeley enrolls, they’ll have to send out 5,000 fewer acceptance letters this year.
All of this is happening because back in 2019 a group called Save Berkeley’s Neighborhoods filed a lawsuit intended to force the school to build more on-campus student housing. The Neighborhoods group argues that as Berkeley has grown from about 30,000 students in 2005 to over 42,000 in the 2019/2020 academic year, the city itself is being negatively impacted. There are complaints about entire streets turning into a kind of frat row full of single family houses hosting 8 or 10 students each. But the more significant complaint is that the influx of thousands of students is driving rents higher throughout the city and is also overtaxing the city’s police and fire services.
The suit says the campus improperly assessed the impacts of rising enrollment on police, fire and health services needed to handle the side-effects of noisy parties and extra-crowded parks and streets, all in violation of the California Environmental Quality Act. That law, known as CEQA, requires public agencies to study the significant environmental impacts of its actions — including, the suit notes, rising enrollment — and propose ways to reduce those impacts.
Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguin also sued in 2019 to force the university to pay the city more to offset the impact of its rising enrollment on local services. The sides settled in June, with UC Berkeley agreeing to pay $82.64 million over 16 years, and the mayor agreeing to withdraw the city’s objections to the Upper Hearst project.
This is obviously going to be a disappointment for a lot of students who went through part of high school during the pandemic and are now seeing their shot at a top school taken away because of policies that have been in place since they were small children. It’s also not clear what impact this will have on other UC schools. Will other top schools like UCLA be able to accept the influx caused by a sudden reduction of slots at Berkeley?
Finally, it’s not clear how long it will take for Berkeley to resolve this situation. Will they be able to resume course by next year or will the freeze continue because they don’t have their environmental assessment complete? The current freeze is likely going to cost the school tens of millions of dollars in anticipated revenue so I’m sure getting this resolved is a top priority.