Wednesday, February 28

U.C. Berkeley Must Freeze Enrollment, California Supreme Court Says

It could be harder to get into one of California’s most prestigious universities after the state’s highest court on Thursday declined to reverse a lower-court ruling that capped enrollment at the University of California, Berkeley, at 2020-21 levels.

The decision by the Supreme Court of California left in place a ruling issued last August that ordered the university to freeze student enrollment at 42,347.

The decision was the result of a legal battle with a residents’ group, Save Berkeley’s Neighborhoods, that had 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 other states or countries.

University officials said on Thursday that, as a result of a new analysis that concluded that they needed to include in their head count hundreds of students who would be studying abroad or in Washington, the university would have to cut in-person enrollment by at least 2,500 students in the fall of 2022.

University officials had previously said that U.C. Berkeley, already one of the nation’s most selective institutions, would have 3,050 fewer seats for incoming first-year students and transfer students than it had planned for the fall of 2022.

Typically, U.C. Berkeley said, it offers admission to about 21,000 first-year and transfer students, and about 9,500 of them enroll. University officials emphasized that the decision did not mean that acceptance letters would have to be rescinded.

To soften the blow of the enrollment freeze, they said, at least 1,500 undergraduates will be offered one of two options. 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.

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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. But the university still described those options as “far from ideal” because they would deny deserving students “a full, rich in-person experience starting in the fall when all of their classmates enroll.”

“We still know this is going to be a very disappointing outcome for these thousands of students, but we are doing our best under the terms of an unprecedented court decision,” Dan Mogulof, a university spokesman, said on Thursday.

University officials said they were also pursuing state legislative solutions “that could address the significant impacts of the lower court’s ruling on enrollment decisions at U.C. Berkeley and other campuses.”

Save Berkeley’s Neighborhoods said on Thursday that while it was pleased that the State Supreme Court had maintained enforcement of the enrollment freeze, “we’d like to assure deserving California high school students that we are as disappointed as they are that U.C. has tried to use them as pawns in U.C.’s attempts to avoid mitigating the impacts from the massive enrollment increases over the past few years.”

“We have offered many times to settle our case in exchange for U.C. Berkeley’s agreement to a legally binding commitment to increase housing before they increase enrollment,” the group said in a statement. “We have been rebuffed every time.”

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. That, he said, has prompted students to seek housing in Berkeley’s neighborhoods, where they have moved into apartments that were once rent-controlled, displacing low-income and middle-income residents.

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He said the housing shortage had created a “a massive amount of homelessness in Berkeley.” The residents’ group said it was trying to avoid a housing crisis like the one at the University of California, Santa Barbara, where students have had to sleep in cars or hotels.

Last August, Judge Brad Seligman of the Superior Court of Alameda County agreed with the group that the university had “continued to increase and quickly exceeded” its enrollment projections.

He also said the university could not go forward with the Upper Hearst Project, a plan for new housing and academic space for faculty members, postdoctoral researchers and graduate students.

Save Berkeley’s Neighborhoods sued the university in 2019 to stop the project because it said the university had not provided enough information or assurances about how the project would alleviate the housing crisis or affect traffic, noise and other environmental concerns.

In its statement on Thursday, Save Berkeley’s Neighborhoods said it agreed with a dissent by Associate Justice Goodwin H. Liu of the Supreme Court of California, who suggested that the parties could engage in negotiations or mediation to settle their dispute.

“Indeed, given the stakes on all sides, it is hard to think of a case where a negotiated settlement seems more imperative for the good of the local community and our state,” Justice Liu wrote. He added, “It is not too late to find a solution that mitigates the local community’s environmental concerns without leaving 3,050 of our young people behind.”

University officials said they were not able to agree to Mr. Bokovoy’s demand for an enrollment cap, in part because enrollment is not determined by U.C. Berkeley, but by the University of California Board of Regents and the Legislature, which has called on the state’s public universities to accept more students from California.

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Mr. Mogulof said previously that the university’s efforts to build more housing had also been stymied by lawsuits from community groups, a development he described as “ironic.”

Maria Cramer contributed reporting.

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