Fall classes begin amid budget challenges
| 26 August 2009
BERKELEY — Fall classes begin today (Wednesday, Aug. 26) for more than 35,000 students at the University of California, Berkeley. While belt-tightening due to unprecedented state budget cuts will not go unnoticed here, UC Berkeley top officials say the campus is committed to weathering the financial storm and preserving a longstanding commitment to world-class teaching, research and public service.
10:20 min. video produced by Roxanne Makasdjian/Media Relations
As usual, UC Berkeley's incoming students represent a wide range of backgrounds, cultures and interests. This fall, 76 percent of incoming students hail from California public high schools, and 6 percent are from overseas. And 100 of the new undergraduates are veterans of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, 23 more than entered UC Berkeley last fall.
"Once again, we have an exceptional entering class of freshmen and transfer students," said UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau. "The budget cuts and challenges this year created by California's financial situation are real. What I am telling the students and others, however, is that UC Berkeley, like the state of California, is an extraordinarily resilient institution. We have been a great university for 141 years and we will be a great university 141 years from now."
Cool school, hot classes
Students this fall will find themselves at a "Cool School," an honor from Sierra Club magazine for UC Berkeley's environmental sustainability. UC Berkeley also recently was named to The Princeton Review's Green Honor Roll for its high commitment to sustainability.
They'll also notice continuing construction work on the historic Campanile and the Center for Biomedical and Health Sciences, the campus's first building for multidisciplinary research into human health and disease.
Among this fall's most fascinating courses are "Viruses, Health and Society," a freshman seminar that also addresses the H1N1 (swine) flu; a comparative literature course on the appeal of slackerism; 'The Cave Man Mystique," a new anthropology class exploring links between the Paleolithic diet and sex and violence today; and a sophomore seminar on the state's water history in the context of climate change.
Incoming freshmen and transfer students who this summer read professor Michael Pollan's "The Ominvore's Dilemma " as part of the College of Letters & Science's "On the Same Page" program are now ready for several new seminars on the theme of "Food for Thought." Pollan will lead several food-related programs on campus this year, including a Sept. 30 panel discussion on the global food crisis.
Impacts of budget cuts
UC Berkeley has had to cut nearly $150 million from its budget, which is its share of an $813 million reduction in state funding to the 10-campus UC system. The shortfall is being addressed by a hike in student fees and tuition, faculty and staff furloughs, layoffs and a reduction in some services.
"We have done our best to make cuts in line with our priorities, and protecting academic programs was our top priority. Administrative and service units have had to take cuts of more than 20 percent while the academic units were asked to cut on average 7 percent or less. Even where cuts to student services are unavoidable, we have worked hard to take them in a way that has the least impact on teaching and learning," said Nathan Brostrom, vice chancellor for administration.
The number of academic courses is expected to be cut by approximately 8 percent or more with important gateway and required classes preserved as much as possible.
Financial aid demand up, but need is being met
With a 9.3 percent hike in UC fees for undergraduate education and other expenses - including health insurance - California residents will pay a total $9,748 for two semesters at UC Berkeley. For non-residents, tuition and all fees, including health insurance, total $32,417.
The combination of increased fees and the downturn in the economy have resulted in greater demand for financial aid. As of today (Aug. 26), the first day of classes, more than 17,000 undergraduate and graduate students have received a total of $141 million in financial aid, an increase of $11 million over last year, primarily due to increasing costs. The good news this year for undergraduates is that the state-funded Cal Grants survived the budget cuts and federal Pell Grant awards, which go to students from low-income families, were increased this year.
Still, family situations are changing quickly, and the number of appeals filed by parents due to changes in their financial circumstances, such as job losses or pay cuts, has more than doubled, according to campus officials. "We are working hard to assist students and their families with the full range of options that are available to them," said Cheryl Resh, director of financial aid. In addition to getting aid to students as quickly as possible, the campus makes short-term emergency loans available to any registered student who needs immediate assistance to buy books or cover other pressing needs.
Bright spots in fundraising, fellowships and help for law and business grads
Despite a global recession, the campus raised $306.2 million in donations from alumni, parents and friends for the fiscal year ending June 30 to benefit students, faculty and research. These donations typically are earmarked for specific purposes, such as research, fellowships and scholarships, faculty chairs and funds, libraries, athletics, facilities, and program support.
With gifts and others fund sources available, the campus's ability to support graduate student fellowships across the board has increased this year. One new award, a $3.2 million grant from the National Science Foundation for the Center for interdisciplinary Biological Inspiration in Education and Research (CiBER), will support a doctoral program focused on applying engineering approaches to biological research. The funding will provide 25 biology and engineering Ph.D. students with two-year fellowships early in their studies.
To further help students and recent graduates navigate a tough economy, two professional schools on campus have instituted new initiatives. The UC Berkeley School of Law is forgiving an unlimited amount of law school debt, and some undergraduate debt, for alumni working for non-profit public interest groups or government agencies who earn less than $65,000. Previously, the amount of debt to be pardoned was capped at $100,000 for alumni earning less than $58,000.
Meanwhile, the Haas School of Business has launched a temporary MBA loan program that will provide student loans of up to $20,000 per year for U.S. and international students who are ineligible for federal student loans. The school is also reimbursing loan payments for recent graduates who earn less than $80,000 a year and work in non-profit and public service positions.
Pitching in with creative ideas and tough decisions
Across campus, academic colleges, schools, departments and centers are coming up with creative, if sometimes painful, ways to save money. For example, to avoid cutting student services, the math and statistics departments will fund support services with money typically used for supplies and expenses during summer. In many quarters, office supplies are being cut back and telephone landlines removed, with the less costly Voice over Internet Protocol replacing some systems.
At the Transfer, Reentry and Student Parent Center, the student parent program is putting together the Bear Pantry, a food bank for low-income students with dependent children who are eligible for financial aid. The pantry has received a small grant from the University Section Club, which raises money to support deserving needy students.
And with the price of textbooks soaring, the campus's Joint Task Force on Textbook and Reader Affordability is looking at cheaper alternatives for budget-conscious students, including textbook rentals, loose leaf materials and e-textbooks that can be read online or downloaded to a computer. State statistics show that students in California's public higher education system spend between $700 and $900 annually on textbooks.
"These are tough economic times on campus, but students remain our number one priority," said Barbara Davis, assistant vice chancellor for equity and inclusion, who also is co-chair of the textbook task force. "We will do our best to make sure that the high quality of a Berkeley education is not compromised."