When Middle Class Families Can’t Afford College
While admissions of wealthy and low-income students have grown in recent years at the University of California at Berkeley, those for students from middle-class families have remained static. Concerned that more and more middle-class students are foregoing California’s public universities for private ones that offer more generous aid packages, officials announced that they are planning to increase financial aid for students from middle-class families starting in the fall of 2012.
“As a public institution we feel strongly that we need to sustain and expand access across the socioeconomic spectrum,” said Berkeley chancellor, Robert J. Birgeneau in the New York Times, which summarized the plan:
Berkeley’s definition of middle-class in creating its new financial aid program is a family with income between $80,000 and $140,000 a year. On top of the parental contribution of 15 percent of income, students would also have to pay about $8,000 per year — generally a combination of loans, work-study and private scholarships. At the bottom end of the spectrum, that would make for a total payment of $20,000, a 37.5 percent discount off the $32,000 total of tuition, room and board for California residents. On the upper end, it would be about $29,000, or a 10 percent discount.
Tuition at Berkeley is $32,000 and is projected to rise sharply over the next few years. Just the day before the University made its announcement, Governor Jerry Brown had cut its budget by $100 million after California state revenues fell more than $2.2 billion below projections. Nonetheless, UC spokesperson Steve Montiel said in the Daily Californian that the cuts to the UC budget will not be passed on to the various campuses around the state, but will be “absorbed by the UC Office of the President.”
The new program is projected to cost $12 million per year and is to be funded through out-of-state and international student tuition and private donations. Out-of-state students, who currently make up 30 percent of Berkeley’s freshman class, will also receive comparable discounts on the first $32,000 of their tuition and fees, but will also still have to pay an additional $23,000.
My mother’s father, my parents, my sister, almost all of my aunts and uncles and first cousins attended UC Berkeley. Everyone felt fortunate that, right in our backyard, was a world-class university. My family is staunchly middle-class; everyone attended public school and growing up, I considered the words “Cal” and “Berkeley” synonymous with “college.” As a high school senior, I ended up deciding not to attend the only college I knew and went back east to an institution whose tuition seemed astronomical — but now, UC Berkeley’s tuition is the same as, and even less than, that of some private colleges.
Student debt and the rising costs of college have been frequently mentioned by the Occupy protesters. As Mark Kantrowitz, who operates the financial aid website FinAid.org says in the New York Times: “When tuition is going up, that can have a chilling effect, but something like this has an emotional effect that works as a recruiting tool. It sends the message that we know everybody struggles to pay for college.”
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Photo by D.H. Parks