Mills College Closes, but Opens Its Doors to Berkeley Students

A new solution to Cal’s housing and classroom shortage
By Kailyn Rhone

In early March, the leadership of Mills College announced that the institution would discontinue its enrollment for first-year students after fall 2021. By 2023, the small private college in Oakland, established in 1852 for the education of undergraduate women, will be officially closed.

When one door closes, however, another opens. With Mills’s closure, Berkeley has found a partial solution for an ongoing problem: the University has long struggled to provide enough housing or classroom space for its incoming students. To help combat this shortage, Berkeley has already created special programs for first-year students, including the Fall Program for Freshmen (FPF) and the (pandemic-suspended) Global Edge in London.

“The academic experience will be cozier, but otherwise similar, with an even more state-of-the-art Berkeley Changemaker curriculum,” says Richard Lyons.

FPF is a one-semester program, started in 1984, that provides the opportunity for about 750 first-year students in the College of Letters and Science to take core classes together off Berkeley’s main campus. Berkeley Global Edge in London is a fall semester international program for incoming students that was created in 2015 and had 90 students in 2019. (The latter was suspended in 2020 due to COVID-19 and will not return in the fall of 2021.)

Ramu Nagappan, assistant dean of UC Berkeley Extension, which runs FPF, told Berkeley News that the program has been a success, demonstrating “small, but measurable differences in academic outcomes—their GPAs are slightly higher, their time to graduate is a little faster than College of Letters and Science students who start on the main campus.”

The University hopes to duplicate that success with a new yearlong opportunity, the UC Berkeley Changemaker in Oakland program, for roughly 200 first-year students to take core classes at Mills.

“The academic experience will be cozier, but otherwise similar, with an even more state-of-the-art Berkeley Changemaker curriculum,” said Richard Lyons, Berkeley’s chief innovation and entrepreneurship officer. Launched in 2020, Berkeley Changemaker is described as “a way to codify an essential part of what UC Berkeley has always stood for” with a curriculum that “activates undergraduates’ passions and helps them develop a sharper sense of who they want to be and how to make that happen.”

Said Lyons, “What excites me most about this program is how it points the way to our future. For example, as UC Berkeley gets larger, my sense is that integrated first-year programming like this will become more and more valuable. And having first-year programming like that of Berkeley Changemaker that aligns with values that so sharply distinguish Berkeley—values like question the status quo and serve the greater good—feels like the right direction as well.”

From the Summer 2021 issue of California.
Filed under: Cal Culture
Image source: Phillip Bond / Alamy Stock Photo
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This program is a travesty for Mills College! It does not fulfill the Mills Mission to educate WOMEN. How dare you announce this without feedback from Mills Alumnae, staff, faculty and current students. The Mills board has pushed this through against strong objections by the aforementioned! You will have a legal fight on your hands. There is NO mention of any component of our mission. We do not accept you, do not accept your students and do not accept your occupation of our campus. There will be protests and media.
So, you’re going to attack Cal 17- and 18-year olds because you don’t like what your own Mills administration is doing? That seems unnecessarily nasty to young people who have done nothing wrong. Maybe that’s why Mills is a failing campus. You all aren’t very nice.
@john heinz I’m not sure how “We do not accept your students” equates to attacking Cal 17- and 18-year-olds — Mills alums are angry at how the administration has been treating them, and they’re also upset with how an article from the Cal Alumni Association can cover Mills as sold and done when Mills’ own president hasn’t even said as much. Also, isn’t Cal the birthplace of the Free Speech Movement? A man putting down women for not being “nice” is living proof that Mills needs to stay around much, much longer than 2023.
To be fair saying stuff like, “We do not accept you, do not accept your students and do not accept your occupation of our campus. There will be protests and media.” to Cal 17 and 18 year olds who just wanted to try out a new program from their school probably isn’t going to win over people to your side. Most of freshman probably don’t even know what going on with Mills, so holding up signs like, “Get off out Campus” is not really helping.
So, you’re going to attack Cal 17- and 18-year olds because you don’t like what your own Mills administration is doing? That seems unnecessarily nasty to young people who have done nothing wrong. Maybe that’s why Mills is a failing campus. You all aren’t very nice or kind.
Oh my. You substantively mis-characterize this agreement— and of course, at the time this was written, Mills faced extinction. (“Occupy our campus,” really?) As a friend of several Mills faculty, the news of pending merger with Northeastern was a sigh of relief, as the other option seems no more Mills. In such a difficult situation, aggressive threats do not seem to help. I understand alumni frustration, and the lack of financial transparency with the alum trustee seems problematic to say the least. If the current board has been financially irresponsible, they should face consequences and a change in governance may be in order. Certainly a merger may be problematic depending on the terms of Mills’ incorporation. But unless the alumni can raise several hundred million dollars, is there a path out better than the one proposed — flaws and all?
Yes there is a way forward. Mills has empty dorm rooms. Berkeley has a large number of students, many of whom need safe accommodation. Rent the spare Mills College dorm capacity to UCB students who identify as women. Another way forward is a second “Tuition Reset” that brings Mills College’s tuition more in line with other women’s colleges, distances it from community colleges that it is still more expensive than, and makes it at a level where revenues exceed expenses to balance the budget.
Nan Roche seems to be expressing a radical sexist animosity toward men. I am one who is non-binary yet Mills administration policy excludes me.
Totally with Nan Roche. The angle this story takes is more definite than even anything President Hillman has said about Mills’ future! Like Mills will cease to exist at the sroke of midnight in 2023, in favor of the all-encompassing Cal. Also, the “success” of the Changemakers program is cited as a slightly higher GPA and graduating a few months faster? That doesn’t sound like much of a program at all. More like an excuse to put an overflowing student body onto the campus of another school and dress it up in words like “integrated first-year programming.” No wonder the People’s Park community has been fighting Cal so hard…!
At the last UC Board of Regents Chancellor Christ was asked specifically about plans for Mills College by Lt Governor Kounalakis and Chair Perez. She said that although they were in discussions, there was no deal on the table and anything to do with Mills College would require its own Long Range Development Plan. This could be years away. Mills College’s revenues have fallen over the last few years, even before COVID. You don’t have to be an MBA student to see that President Hillman’s “Tuition Reset” plan led to much smaller revenues, not enough to cover annual costs, making the College not sustainable **under her vision** Take Mills back to where it was for nearly 2 centuries, a world-class education where you pay a premium for a uniquely small teacher-student ratio - supported by financial aid, Pell Grants, scholarships, and the giant Mills College endowment. Mills College has many assets, no wonder UC Berkeley sees the value. The only thing standing in the way of Mills College’s success is the Administration and the Board that appointed them and allows this folly to unfold.
Everything we read sounds more and more like the vague “institute” Mills’ current President continues to speak of is in fact just code for “UC Berkeley residential halls.” Mills Alums would welcome and appreciate some support from our UCB siblings in our fight to save Mills! Please speak up for Mills College and the future it deserves to have.
This article is irresponsible, embarrassing, and shameful. CAL should fight for Mills COLLEGE to remain as its Founders intended…instead of looking at the land like a prime cut of meat!
@John Heinz, you’re one to talk about being “nice” and/or “kind.” I guarantee you’d feel just as upset if it was some other school invading YOUR alma mater, like its history and culture doesn’t matter. Also, being “nice” is what got us into this mess in the first place - everyone was too “nice” to bring themselves to call Janet Holmgren, Alecia Decoudreux, Beth Hillman and the Mills Board on their shenanigans for the last 15 years - so do yourself a BIG favor and don’t EVER bank on “niceness” or “kindness” in the future.
Nice advert for the FPF, especially given Mills was generous enough to let Cal students live in our buildings, eat our food and use our transportation system for 20+ years… Your welcome, by the way. Also, in regards to the gentleman who had the temerity to label Mills alumnae as “nasty”… Oh ho, good sir, you have not BEGUN to comprehend the foul depths of that accursed word. Do you want me to get my Pink hat from 2017 out again? BECAUSE SO HELP ME, I WILL GET MY PINK HAT FROM 2017 OUT AGAIN, AND YOU WILL NEVER HEAR THE END OF IT!!!
The Berkeley students need to know what they’re in for. Period. Not planning to be “nice” about this. Sorry
As a member of the class of’59 I strongly oppose this whole idea of Mills closing and turning the campus over to Cal. What happened? In 1959 Mills was known as a upscale liberal arts college where one could obtain an outstanding education. It was an honor to be accepted. A degree from Mills meant something. As for Mr. Heinz who said women have to be nice or kind?
Students! You need to know that this program is basically a land grab, a pillaging if you will of a beautiful and august College that is temporarily in trouble and is abjectly opposed to by the overwhelming majority of the alumnae, faculty, students and staff of the college. Stay away! This program will be opposed and seems to be of marginal benefit to you according to the article above. You will be unwelcome and in the midst of a fierce fight to save the College. Do you really want to be involved in that?
I want to clear, as a Mills alum, that I don’t have an issue with this one particular program of 200 students. If we have an empty residence hall to rent out for a limited agreement for a limited time to bring in some extra cash, it makes sense to me. The problem is that this is likely just the first phase in a larger plan. THAT is why you’re getting the strong reactions. Because we have been misled about the status and future of Mills for several years now, we can trust nothing at this point. Underscore this with the timing of the announcement of the closing of Mills College just a few days prior to the announcement of this UCB Changemakers program. Surely it’s understandable that the Mills community is alarmed and resistant at a level we otherwise would not likely be. Regardless of how one feels about this particular program, the bigger picture — the legacy and the future of one of California’s oldest, most unique and true liberal arts colleges — is being sold off in pieces with UCB looking to be one of the biggest beneficiaries. THIS is why we ask Cal alums to support our efforts to save our school. Instead of Cal being predatory and taking advantage of our current dire straits, please instead stand with us as partners. To learn more about what Mills alums are doing to save our alma mater, visit these sites:,, Thank you for your support!
Mills College’s strong and proud alumnae, current students, wonderful faculty and longstanding staff members deserve a much improved Board and Mills President with which to plan our future! Mills College is in transition to fight for its future! Mills College is still alive for us! If new Cal students understand that, a small Cal freshman class program may work in that case. I agree with Stacy Boales Varner!
Thank you Stacy! Well said! Nan Roche
No comment.
Perhaps Mills needs a more sophisticated, better informed and innovative-thinking Board of Trustees and a new, more broadly focused President. Have we lost our compass?
A paean to the distinctive ‘Green Triangle in east Oakland’, Mills College, always so apparent from the air back in my day, and still very ‘There’ on today’s map. Even Gertrude Stein would have to agree.
People who didn’t know about the troubles have not been reading their Mills Quarterly. They publicly declared a Financial Emergency in 2017 for goodness sake. How is that deceptive, or hiding the dire situation that Mills has been in for decades? I think the Mills mission is to provide high quality education, and I’d rather see Mills open doors to new possibilities than shut the gates forever. A former/ dead/ non-existent women’s college doesn’t help keep the mission to educate. Nor does radical exclusion.
And… it only took Cal TWO WEEKS to basically strip ALL references to Oakland and Mills off their Changemaker pages. Wow, that was fast! All they have to do is remove that picture of Mills’ Vera M. Long building, and then the erasure will be complete. So, I’m guessing either Cal got offended about us alums demanding a say in our school’s future, or else Beth Hillman thinks she can get a better deal selling Mills off to Northeastern University. Unless… negotiations broke down over Mills’ staff voting to unionize in 2020??? In which case, I don’t see the NEU “negotiations” going any place good, either.