Court orders UC Berkeley enrollment freeze, could turn away thousands of students

The University of California Berkeley may have to cut its incoming class size by one-third and lose $57 million in tuition revenue.
Judge's gavel
Judge's gavel
(Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

The University of California Berkeley may have to cut its incoming class size by one-third and lose $57 million in tuition revenue due to a court-ordered enrollment freeze, the university announced Monday.

The enrollment freeze stems from an Alameda County Superior Court ruling in August that ordered the university to cap student enrollment at 2020-21 levels, which the university said Monday was an “abnormally low” enrollment year due to the pandemic. University officials requested a stay of the enrollment injunction, but that request was denied last week by the California 1st District Court of Appeals, requiring the university to adhere to the enrollment freeze.

As a result, the university said it would have to reduce the number of undergraduate students enrolled for the upcoming academic year by one-third – amounting to at least 3,050 fewer undergraduate students than initially planned.

The university said Monday that it had appealed the ruling to the Supreme Court of California.

“If left intact, the court’s decision would have a devastating impact on prospective students, university admissions, campus operations, and the university’s ability to serve California students by meeting the enrollment targets set by the state of California,” the university said in a statement. “This court-mandated decrease in enrollment would be a tragic outcome for thousands of students who have worked incredibly hard to gain admission to Berkeley.”

The university estimated Monday that the enrollment reduction would likely result in significant revenue loss, resulting in about $57 million in lost tuition. Berkeley officials said the losses would impact the school’s ability to provide financial aid, deliver instruction and fund student services.

The lower court ruling that ordered an enrollment freeze stemmed from a lawsuit brought forth by a group known as “Save Berkeley’s Neighborhoods,” which challenged the environmental impact of a UC Berkeley project that would expand academic space and add 225 new residence hall beds to the campus. The group challenged the campus expansion under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).

According to Berkeleyside, Save Berkeley’s Neighborhoods argued in August that UC Berkeley had exacerbated the city’s housing crisis because it did not build enough housing for its students. Berkeleyside also reported that the university only houses about 22% of undergraduate and 9% of graduate students.

The news of Berkeley’s sustained enrollment freeze prompted responses from several lawmakers on Monday, including Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, and the Senate Housing Committee chair.

“Due to a NIMBY (Not In My Backyard) CEQA lawsuit to stop UC Berkeley from expanding to meet growing student need, the University is now forced to rescind 1000s of admission offers,” Wiener tweeted Monday. “Let’s be clear: This was never the point of CEQA. This broken status quo must change. Stay tuned.”