HIGHER ED DIGEST: Things to watch for in UC Berkeley enrollment saga

UC Berkeley, from all angles, appears to have an enrollment strategy of getting students into classes and letting the privilege and pressure of acceptance guide the housing security process. Enough people got sick of it and successfully sued the institution under California’s Environmental Quality Act, alleging that the housing density of the institution threatened natural resources.

Word got out fast that Berkeley would be required to cut enrollment by just over 2,600 students. Now, lawmakers are poised to give the school a legislative workaround to meet its headcount goals.

The reprieve, which legislators hope to pass quickly, would affect only a small portion of the act that deals with the environmental impact reports required as part of long-range development plans at public universities in California. It would give higher education leaders 18 months to remedy deficiencies when the courts determine that a campus population exceeds projections, and would ensure that any remedy being sought now would not apply to current enrollment. It also would allow them to adjust the number of faculty and staff members on campus, rather than just the number of students.

There are a number of things to consider with the legislation and the legal challenges which may come in the future.

Distance Learning – If online access is part of the new higher education normal, how will Berkeley integrate online degrees, teleworking for faculty and staff, and virtual research opportunities to reduce density while still providing housing for a growing student body? From Berkeleyside:

“…to keep the numbers on campus low enough to comply with the court order, only 4,370 California resident freshmen and 509 out-of-state students will be permitted to set foot on campus. The others will be asked to attend remotely the first semester or to delay starting school until January 2023. About 90% of the new students will be from California, according to the university.”

Out-of-State Enrollment – California has long been a national test case on how to deal with a rush of students from other states and countries taking up admissions spots from in-state residents. Cal Matters profiles how one group proposed a remedy to benefit California residents’ college access needs.

On Saturday, his group did just that, proposing a partial, temporary settlement that would allow UC Berkeley to increase its in-person enrollment cap by 1,000 students above the court order as long 90% of those students are Californians and that the UC stops pushing to lift the enrollment cap through the courts or legislative process. Such a cap would allow the university to enroll in person about as many students as it did in fall 2019 – before the COVID-19 pandemic led to a slightly smaller campus population in fall 2020.

Student Diversity – What would enrollment caps do to a school which has long struggled with diversity? An analysis from the Daily Californian:

To put things into perspective, only 3.7% of fall 2021’s freshman class was Black. The enrollment freeze could worsen this statistic, as the $57 million loss in tuition money will limit campus’s ability to offer acceptances and financial aid for underrepresented students and lower-income families. The loss in tuition revenue could also hinder campus’s ability to fund essential student services for enrolled students, which are often set in place to serve such students to begin with. As a campus that is already underserving Black students, UC Berkeley must not further compromise its student diversity. 

Economics of Student Housing – Berkeley is emerging as the face and housing affordability and shortages in California, issues within which California is racing New York for the country’s titles of most expensive and least-likely-to-own. What does fewer students on campus mean for economic development in the area? More specifically, existing deals for new housing construction and commerce?

A conservative take from the City Journal:

But the UC–Berkeley case is especially egregious for two reasons. First, few Americans have enjoyed as much good fortune as long-time homeowners in Berkeley, who have profited handsomely from real estate appreciation. The average house price in Berkeley is over $1.6 million, a price partially reflecting a market premium from proximity to the university and the Bay Area’s high-tech economy (fueled in part by UC–Berkeley graduates), but more fundamentally reflecting an artificial scarcity of housing created by regional slow-growth policies since the 1970s. Placing adults’ subjective quality-of-life concerns above opportunities for California’s best students is especially galling when the adults in question have been the beneficiaries of such good luck.

Education News Flash is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support its work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.

Leave a Reply