In summary The California Supreme Court accepted a lower court’s order that UC Berkeley cap enrollment, meaning 3,000 admitted students will almost certainly have to seek an education elsewhere. This finding is the result of a lawsuit under California’s Environmental Quality Act.
Barring a legislative Hail Mary, UC Berkeley will have to turn away 3,000 new students this fall after the California Supreme Court refused to overturn a lower court order ordering the university to cut enrollment .
Today’s decision means UC Berkeley can only enroll 6,500 new freshmen and transfer students for this fall, compared to the university’s planned 9,500. The decision is a blow to students who want to get into one of the top universities in the country that is effectively tuition-free for low-income Californians.
The fallout stems from Alameda Superior Court Judge Brad Seligman’s order last year to keep enrollment at UC Berkeley at 2020-21 levels, after City of Berkeley residents sued the university, challenging the impact the school’s growing enrollment would have on city services, scarce housing and noise.
The basis for this lawsuit and court rulings, the California Environmental Quality Act of 1970, again centers the state’s environmental protection law as a source of ire for urban density proponents and real estate developers. or as a primary weapon to preserve communities and the surrounding environment. .
“This is devastating news for the thousands of students who have worked so hard and secured a spot in our Fall 2022 class,” read a statement from UC Berkeley. “Our fight on behalf of each of these students continues.”
The decision was not unanimous. In a dissenting statement, Judge Goodwin Liu wrote that he would have granted UC Berkeley’s request to freeze the enrollment cap. He urged the parties to try to resolve the matter quickly.
Now the question is where those students who would have been admitted to Berkeley would end up going.
The UC system has no plan to ensure that these 3,000 students will find a place in another UC. “It is too early in the legal process to know exactly how prospective students will be affected,” Ryan King, a spokesperson for the UC President’s Office, wrote in an email last week.
Some lawmakers and legal scholars have previously said that if the state Supreme Court upholds Seligman’s order in place, it would open the door for other communities to sue campuses over their enrollment growth through the Environmental Quality Act of 1970 – the law at the center of UC Berkeley. registration limit.
“This is a huge limit on what any UC school, any California state school, any public school system can do,” said Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of the UC Law School. UC Berkeley, in a conversation with CalMatters ahead of the Supreme Court’s decision today.
Yet today’s court decision was not about the merits of the case, but rather about Seligman’s decision to limit listings. A state appeals court is expected to hear the case in full later this year.
Lawmakers could try to fast-track a bill to exempt campus enrollment from the state’s Environmental Quality Act, a lawmaker said last month. But UC Berkeley is supposed to notify students by March 24 if they are admitted. May 1 is the deadline for students to put down deposits to attend campus — and the typical deadline for colleges across the country.
Lawmakers “don’t need a lot of time to put this together,” texted Assemblyman Kevin McCarty, a Democrat from Sacramento. “We are on the case and aware of the deadlines.”
Such a law would be a “missed opportunity,” said UC Davis law professor Chris Elmendorf, because it would not address what he sees as the environmental law’s primary flaw: it considers population growth, whatever it is, such as pollution in an urban environment.
But supporters of the law say it protects communities from pollution and is unfairly pilloried by state agencies and developers who want to build homes.
UC Berkeley has argued in court filings that if it can’t enroll those 3,000 students this fall, it will lose $57 million in annual tuition for at least four years.
While the current lawsuit technically concerns housing and academic development for the Goldman School of Public Policy, the larger question is whether UC Berkeley failed to adequately measure the impact its enrollment growth would have. on the city.
Berkeley stated in its 2005 multi-year building plan that its 2020 enrollment would be approximately 33,000 students. But the campus actually hit nearly 43,000 students in the fall of 2020. While the campus was well over its enrollment caps, UC Berkeley built less student housing than it had. foreseen. By 2020, the campus said it would have 10,790 beds, but as of today can only accommodate 9,800 students.
The lawsuit filed by Save Berkeley’s Neighborhoods argues that UC Berkeley never made a proper assessment of how this additional enrollment growth affects the surrounding area. And without this analysis, the campus cannot proceed with any further construction plans.
Seligman agreed. And the state Supreme Court agreed with him.
UC Berkeley argues that budget shortfalls caused by the Great Recession and declining state support for much of this period meant less money to invest in student housing. The campus also spent “a significant amount of its housing reserves to seismically retrofit three of our existing residential facilities,” said UC Berkeley spokesman Dan Mogulof. And although the campus identified land for up to 5,000 beds in a 2017 report, those properties already included existing structures such as parking lots and academic buildings that would have to be demolished, Mogulof said.
In the past year, lawmakers have proposed or approved $7 billion in campus housing loans and grants.
Other legal scholars argue that enrollment growth is irrelevant to the case. “The trial court’s decision was flawed on several levels. The court had no jurisdiction to decide the Goldman School case to impose limits on Berkeley’s student population; it just wasn’t in question,” Chemerinsky wrote in a Sacramento Bee essay.
Public officials, including Governor Gavin Newsom, said these students would be barred from an elite education. Denying enrollment at UC Berkeley to these 3,000 new students “would be irreparably harmful” and would “also undermine the state’s overall interest in expanding access to higher education, particularly at the flagship institutions of state undergraduate,” Newsom told the state Supreme Court.
But public data suggests that nearly all UC Berkeley applicants admitted as freshmen end up in college.
In 2019, only 5%, or 656, of freshmen admitted to UC Berkeley did not attend college or their college destinations are unknown. Nearly half – 45% – who were admitted ended up attending college. The remaining half went largely to strong institutions, with 16% going to other CUs and 24% going to selective private universities that typically offer strong financial aid programs for low-income students.
Yet those statistics apply to a normal year, not when a large campus like UC Berkeley is unable to enroll 3,000 new freshmen and transfer students. Given the popularity of the entire UC system, other campuses within the may struggle to accommodate these students, which may impact enrollment capacity at other public and private colleges.
Phil Bokovoy, the president of Save Berkeley’s Neighborhoods, wrote in an email that the group “would like a legally binding agreement that ties enrollment growth to housing production on land that UC already owns.” In past conversations, he cited the 2008 legal settlement between UC Santa Cruz and local government that tied on-campus enrollment growth to more housing as a model for what UC Berkeley could pursue. But that deal also came with an enrollment cap of 19,500 students for what ended up lasting 15 years. At the time of the deal, enrollment at UC Santa Cruz was approximately 16,000 students.
Bokovoy has repeatedly denied a claim by UC Berkeley that it was pushing for an enrollment cap.
UC Berkeley will not accept any enrollment cap, said Mogulof, the UC Berkeley spokesperson. The campus reached an agreement last year with the city of Berkeley that it will pay the city $4 million a year whether or not the campus meets its housing production goals. The city was an early plaintiff in the lawsuit against UC Berkeley, but settled with the campus before Seligman issued its enrollment cap. The city never sought an enrollment cap; his legal team wrote to the state Supreme Court asking it to side with the UC campus and lift the enrollment cap.
Another campus, UC Davis, has promised to tie enrollment growth to more housing, but the penalty for missing its targets is $500 per bed, according to a legal agreement with the local government.
In the future, if community groups target other campuses for enrollment growth, those lawsuits could be short-lived if the appeals court overturns Seligman’s ruling once it hears the full case. from UC Berkeley later this year.
Chemerinsky, the dean of the UC Berkeley School of Law, said the UC Berkeley case introduces broader questions about the state’s primary environmental law and the role the courts play in university matters.
“There is a real question of how badly do we want the courts in the name of (environmental law) to control registration in the UC system,” he said.
CalMatters.org is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media company explaining California policies and politics.