How much will UC Berkeley have to cut admissions after Supreme Court decision? What we know
California’s high court on Thursday weighed in on a battle that involves development in Berkeley and future growth of the city’s landmark university.
The California Supreme Court declined to lift an enrollment cap on UC Berkeley, and that could have profound implications for the campus and beyond.
UC Berkeley will meet court-ordered enrollment cap with online, deferred admission offers
A California Supreme Court ruling upholding an enrollment cap on UC Berkeley will force the campus to offer hundreds of incoming students admission for online classes for fall or deferred enrollment next spring.
What does the decision mean?
The high court rejected the University of California’s appeal to stay a lower court ruling issued in August that froze enrollment at UC Berkeley until the campus more thoroughly examined the effect of its burgeoning growth on housing, homelessness and noise. The court left intact a ruling by Alameda County Superior Court Judge Brad Seligman, who capped enrollment of students on the physical campus for fall 2022 while the lawsuit filed by Save Berkeley’s Neighborhoods proceeds.
The University of California is appealing to the state Supreme Court to stay a lower court ruling that froze enrollment, which would allow Berkeley to avert any cuts in its planned admission targets for fall.
What does this mean for admissions?
University officials initially warned they might have to cut the incoming fall class by one-third, or 3,050 seats, just weeks before the university was set to release admission decisions.
But they said Thursday they plan to offer more than 1,500 students the options of remote instruction for fall and deferred enrollment for spring semester, which begins in January 2023. More seats will free up as students graduate in the winter and others leave campus for study programs abroad or in other cities.
As a result, the campus may need to cut only a few hundreds seats rather than thousands, as initially feared.
Seligman ruled that UC Berkeley had to cut enrollment to 2020-21 enrollment levels until it redid its environmental review. Berkeley said that level was abnormally low because the pandemic had caused an unanticipated drop of more than 800 students who chose to take time off. To meet that level, the campus initially said it would have to reduce admission offers to first-year and transfer students by 5,100 for fall 2022 and cut back financial aid and reduce campus services due to a loss of $57 million in tuition revenue.
Berkeley is one of the nation’s most applied-to universities, drawing 128,192 first-year applications and 19,345 transfer applications for fall 2022. Last year, its admission rate was 14.5%. In a typical year, the campus admits 21,000 first-year and transfer students and enrolls about 9,500 of them. Admission decisions for fall 2022 are set for release in late March.
What is the next move?
The university is seeking potential legislative solutions along with crafting plans to increase online and deferred enrollment. Berkeley also said it would prioritize California residents for fall in-person enrollment, both first-year and transfer students.
Gov. Gavin Newsom recently weighed in with an amicus letter urging the high court to lift the cap while the litigation proceeds to avoid harm to thousands of hard-working students and undermining the state’s interest in increasing college access.
Assemblyman Phil Ting (D-San Francisco) said legislators are working with UC to find a speedy solution so “all the students who were going to be admitted still can get those admission letters.”
What is the background of the development?
In 2005, the university projected in its long-range development plan that it would enroll 33,450 students by 2020. Save Berkeley’s Neighborhoods learned in 2017 that Berkeley had exceeded that level by about 30% and one year later sued to force the campus to review the environmental impact of more than 11,000 additional students.
Berkeley conducted the review, finding no significant impact. That prompted the neighborhood group and the city of Berkeley to demand a redo, arguing in a 2019 lawsuit that the campus review was inadequate and the conclusion wrong. In August 2021, Seligman ruled in their favor, ordering Berkeley to perform a more thorough analysis and freeze enrollment at 2020-21 levels until it was completed.
UC appealed that ruling in October, but it wasn’t until January that it asked the appellate court to stay the enrollment cap, because, it said in court papers, it had mistakenly believed the stay would automatically occur. Three weeks ago, the appellate court rejected UC’s appeal for a stay, prompting the university to turn to the high court.
What are the Berkeley activists saying?
Phil Bokovoy, president of Save Berkeley’s Neighborhoods, said in a statement Thursday that he and his group have long sought to settle the case with Berkeley in exchange for a legally binding agreement to increase housing before expanding enrollment and remained eager to negotiate. The group told California students it was “as disappointed as they are that UC has tried to use them as pawns in UC’s attempts to avoid mitigating the impacts from the massive enrollment increases over the past few years.”
Bokovoy has dismissed UC’s assertions of “irreparable” harm to students denied admission as hyperbole, saying that Californians could be protected by cutting admissions of international and out-of-state applicants. He also said the university is to blame for the crisis by not adequately reviewing the effect of its growth and failing to provide enough housing for students.
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