Capitol Alert

Former Berkeley chancellor says tuition increase helps low-income students

Then-University of California at Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau speaks during a news conference in 2010. Birgeneau spoke Wednesday at the UC Center Sacramento.
Then-University of California at Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau speaks during a news conference in 2010. Birgeneau spoke Wednesday at the UC Center Sacramento. AP

While politically unpopular, increasing tuition at the University of California is necessary to maintain the system’s economic and racial diversity, according to former UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau.

“People rarely stop to think about the consequences and who will actually pay the increase,” Birgeneau said during a talk at the UC Center Sacramento on Wednesday afternoon. The costs of the tuition hike, he said, mostly falls on the state and high-income families but supports access for low-income and minority students, he said.

Birgeneau, a physics professor who served as Berkeley’s chancellor from 2004 to 2013, said only about a third of UC students – those from families that make more than $150,000 annually – pay full freight, with the rest benefitting from a robust financial aid program. State funding for Cal Grant scholarships for low-income students increases when tuition goes up, he said, as does the pool of money for institutional aid, which is used in part to help those students pay for living expenses.

Birgeneau did not agree with all aspects of the UC’s recent controversial proposal to raise tuition by up to 5 percent annually over the next five years unless California provides more funding to the system. But he said yearly increases of 3 percent are needed to cover cost-of-living increases for students who receive institutional aid, as well as for faculty and staff salaries. (A third of next year’s proposed $612 increase would go to financial aid, he said, with the rest supporting payroll growth.)

Some families that make more than $150,000 have balked at being asked to bear an increasing financial load in UC’s budget formula. But Birgeneau, who said the income of those households goes up by an average of $10,000 per year, argued they can afford it. Birgeneau, who said he took out a home loan to pay for his four children’s college educations, added that parents who have the means to pay their kids’ tuition should be happy to do so.

“We need a return to an ethos where parents say, ‘This is my responsibility,’” he said.

Call The Bee’s Alexei Koseff, (916) 321-5236. Follow him on Twitter @akoseff.

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