UC Berkeley admissions is considering dropping enrollment to satisfy lawsuits filed by Save Berkeley’s Neighborhoods, a coalition of displeased Berkeley residents who blame “impacts related to campus growth,” such as traffic, noise and housing shortages, on overenrollment. This means that the campus will need to decrease enrollment for fall 2022 by about 3,000 seats or lower offers of admission by at least 5,000 based on yield rates, about one month before admissions offers go out.
In fall 2021, 5,000 UC Berkeley students applied for housing, but they could not be accommodated. In order to satisfy the campus’s legal obligation under the California Environmental Quality Act, or CEQA, and prevent decreases to student enrollment, UC Berkeley should admit 3,000 Bay Area students who pledge under binding legal obligation to commute from home.
Back in August 2021, an Alameda County Superior Court judge issued a ruling that effectively freezes enrollment to the same level as the fall 2020 entering class, unless UC Berkeley fully identified the impact of increasing enrollment and proposed mitigation plans for the negative environmental effects on the surrounding neighborhoods. The litigation and most recent ruling are based on the CEQA, which is the legal authority behind UC Berkeley’s obligation to “sufficiently mitigate off-campus impacts related to campus growth and development.”
To lower enrollment would be absurd — there are possibly thousands of students ideally willing to accept whatever conditional requirement the campus will require so they can have the privilege of attending UC Berkeley. This includes close friends of mine who lived with their families and worked full-time jobs while attending the school to support their families financially. As a gay, first-generation college student, UC Berkeley provided me with the resources I needed to overcome my own struggles, and I hope it does the same to uplift thousands more.
This proposal to admit 3,000 Bay Area students who pledge to commute provides a temporary means to address the legal challenges, including the ongoing housing crisis. I personally knew students who would commute from their respective family’s homes throughout the Bay Area in cities such as Oakland and San Francisco, so it is not a stretch to presume that there are potential students who would willingly commute if it meant having the privilege to attend the campus.
I am here now advocating for these prospective students and for this alternative to decreasing enrollment altogether. These students will not overtly burden the housing crisis — they would ideally commute on public transit and not worsen traffic, and their non-Berkeley housing would not warrant noise complaints from your local Berkeley neighbor.
For fall 2021 undergraduate UC Berkeley freshmen admissions, there were about 20,000 high school applicants from the Bay Area alone.
From that same source, about 3,000 of these Bay Area applicants were admitted, and nearly 1,700 enrolled. That means the overall admissions rate for these students was an astoundingly low 15% overall, but in an effort to prevent an enrollment decrease, the admissions rate for Bay Area residents should double to 30%. This proposal would admit roughly 3,000 additional students, or about 6,000 in total, as opposed to 3,028 in total from an applicant pool of 20,096 last year.
Alternatively, we can just hope that the legislature or the California Supreme Court intervenes in time, but UC Berkeley may become more competitive and more closed off to underprivileged communities. Worst of all, other public universities across this nation may also close their doors to thousands of students. At a time in which income inequality is especially high, is this really the direction we want for humanity?
Absolutely not. Thousands of students and their families have no time to wait, and we as an institution must never sacrifice opportunities for those who need them most. We must sufficiently address the housing crisis and rising houselessness while leveling the playing field for future students.
Changing another student’s life for the better should not be weighed against the ongoing housing crisis, and UC Berkeley must invest in the future of its students through a combination of both short-term and long-term solutions. Whereas admitting 3,000 students who pledge to commute is only a short-term solution, it is clear what UC Berkeley must do in the long-term: build more housing.
Daniel Chesmore is a 2013 UC Berkeley alumnus and a current master of laws in taxation student at Georgetown University Law Center.