Update 2/16/2022: This article has been updated to include additional perspectives from UC Berkeley students.
During the 2021-22 academic year, 9,958 students accepted admissions offers to UC Berkeley.
That number may drop by about a third for the upcoming academic year following a state appellate court decision that reaffirmed a cap on enrollment.
Under Thursday’s decision, campus will send at least 5,100 fewer admissions offers with the goal of reducing overall enrollment by 3,050 students, according to a campus press release.
“Strikes at the core”: Students voice concerns over decision
For ASUC Academic Affairs Vice President James Weichert, the court decision is a “slap in the face” to the thousands of qualified applicants who will no longer be offered admission.
“We’re looking at a real devastating impact on the reputation of this university from an academic perspective and its ability to serve students across the globe, and that strikes at the core of our mission,” Weichert said. “It’s in the best interest of the state to have responsible growth and a university system that can educate the best and brightest.”
While campus appealed the decision to the Supreme Court of California on Monday, Weichert said a failed appeal would be “the end of the line.”
The ASUC Office of External Affairs often finds itself involved in lawsuits between campus and the city of Berkeley over the demand for resources created by high student enrollment. The latest lawsuit brought by Save Berkeley’s Neighborhoods, a local community group, is different from most, according to Samantha Warren, the office’s chief of staff.
“We’ve supported the university paying more to the city for critical resources for students, but this decision isn’t about that impact,” Warren said. “It’s about the students who can’t come here. … It’s about increasing accessibility and affordability.”
Ethan Collier, a campus freshman, said he worries admitting fewer out-of-state and international students — as Save Berkeley’s Neighborhoods advocates for — would diminish the “different perspectives” and “personalities” he believes distinguish UC Berkeley.
As an in-state student, Collier said he came to UC Berkeley seeking this diversity and thinks the enrollment freeze could take this experience away for future students.
The principle of a public institution such as UC Berkeley, freshman Neda Bahrani said, is being able to educate as many students as possible. The ruling, she believes, could work to negate this.
Where a lot of opposition is being voiced, some, including Bahrani, see the need to address the student housing crisis and improve the student experience by reducing class sizes. However, Bahrani maintained her opposition to the enrollment freeze.
“I don’t believe that cutting down on student enrollment would solve these problems,” Bahrani said.
While the Office of External Affairs does not typically lobby the judicial branch, Warren said it will contact local and state legislators to help mitigate the effects the decision will have on low-income and first-generation students in particular.
In addition to the immediate impact on admission, Weichert and the campus press release noted a potential $57 million loss from tuition.
UC Berkeley is already facing a budget deficit, and the projected losses will only worsen campus’s ability to support students, increase library hours and hire teaching assistants and extra advisors, according to Weichert. The press release says the losses will also impact financial aid and facility maintenance funds.
“It hurts campus’s bottom line, support and funding,” Weichert said. “Our critical missions include teaching and research and being able to support students. This decision jeopardizes all of those goals.”
Preserving a “really special” city
The court’s decision is the latest installment in a lengthy legal battle between campus and Save Berkeley’s Neighborhoods. The group initially challenged campus’s Upper Hearst Development under the California Environmental Quality Act to limit enrollment, according to Phil Bokovoy, the organization’s president.
Under the original ruling, enrollment will be capped and the Upper Hearst Development will be voided until campus can show it has revised its Supplemental Environmental Impact Review to limit effects on noise, traffic and the “really special” city environment.
“Our goal is the same type of agreement at UC Davis and UC Santa Barbara, where they don’t have students until the university increases housing,” Bokovoy alleged. “Increasing enrollment without housing will make the current housing crisis worse.”
One of the group’s biggest concerns was the impact of increasing student enrollment on existing residents, particularly low-income tenants, Bokovoy said. He alleged the rapid growth of campus’s student population played a role in displacing lower-income tenants around his neighborhood near the Clark Kerr Campus.
Bokovoy said campus should prioritize serving underrepresented and at-risk students and focus on increasing enrollment for in-state residents. In June 2021, California legislators unveiled a proposal to cap the number of international and out-of-state students across three UC campuses, including UC Berkeley.
The California State Auditor released an inquiry on the effects of UC admissions policies on in-state students in 2016, which alleged the university placed a higher priority on out-of-state students, according to Bokovoy. In response, the university released its own report on the matter, stressing its efforts to expand California enrollment and allocate funding in a transparent and fair process.
“The proportion of Pell Grant recipients has dropped by more than 10%, and lower-income and immigrant students can’t afford housing,” Bokovoy alleged. “The university should reevaluate its priorities on who it should be serving. A UC education should help in upward mobility. … People couldn’t find spaces to sit in classrooms and places to live.”
“Here to stay”: The town-gown relationship
While the court’s decision has an immediate impact on current and prospective students, City Council members and other elected officials have weighed in on the matter. City Councilmember Rigel Robinson is currently working with the Office of External Affairs to find a way to address the impacts of the decision, according to Warren.
To Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín, the order to cap enrollment is a completely separate issue from the city’s $82 million settlement with campus over critical resources.
“I do not think the city should stand in the way of UC making progress in addressing our housing crisis and preventing future generations of students from getting a world-class education,” Arreguín said in an email. “The 2021 LRDP (Long Range Development Plan) will result in more student housing, academic space and support services to address the needs of a growing student population.”
Weichert also noted that UC Berkeley was established in 1868, while the city of Berkeley was incorporated 10 years later. While he doesn’t support the lawsuit, Weichert said the decision serves as a reflection point for campus on how it can better support current and prospective students.
Warren added the city has played an important role in representing the diverse voices of its residents. The key to future work between campus and the city, according to Warren, is finding a proper balance between how the city can support students and how campus can help the city flourish.
“The bottom line is that campus needs to coexist with the city,” Weichert said. “Berkeley is known for the University of California, and the city and its residents have to recognize that we’re here to stay. It’s part of our identity.”