Bay city News--Reacting to rising tuition costs and the state's high cost of living, University of California, Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau announced a new program Wednesday to make his campus more affordable for middle-class families.
Birgeneau said the initiative, called the Berkeley Middle Class Access Plan, is the first program in the nation at a public university to extend comprehensive financial aid to middle-class families.
Speaking at a news conference at the Haas Pavilion, Birgeneau said the plan targets families whose gross income ranges from $80,000 to $140,000 annually and caps the contribution parents make toward the total annual cost of a UC Berkeley student's education at 15 percent of their earnings.
The grants will range from $3,000 to $16,000 a year. Total cost includes tuition, fees and expenses, such as room, board and books.
Anne De Luca, the university's acting associate vice chancellor for admission and enrollment, said about 6,000 UC Berkeley students, representing about one-fourth of the campus's 25,885 undergraduate students, fall into that income category.
She said between 1,000 and 2,000 students in that category now get some grant aid from the university and the new program will benefit more students and provide more assistance.
Vice Chancellor Frank Yeary said the program "substantially increases the number of students who qualify for aid and students in this category who didn't get assistance this year should fill out forms to get assistance for the next academic year," which begins in the fall.
Birgeneau said the university has always had a strong commitment to low-income families, which are defined as those who make less than $80,000 a year. He said 40 percent of UC Berkeley's students fall into that category and pay no tuition at all.
But he said the university is seeing early signs that middle-income families who cannot access existing assistance programs are straining to meet college costs. A key factor is that tuition rates have doubled in the last six years and the salaries of middle-class families haven't kept pace, Birgeneau said.
The current cost for a California resident who attends the university is $32,634, which includes $12,834 in tuition and fees.
The state's ongoing budget crisis, which has resulted in less spending on higher education, has prompted the university to try to do more to help middle-income families, Birgeneau said. He said, "We need to do more to help the middle class. Our university has to be accessible to all Californians."
Financial aid awarded through the new program will be for the 2012-13 school year, which begins in August, and is for domestic undergraduate students, including incoming freshmen.
Campus budget officials estimate that the program will cost between $10 million and $12 million a year. They said they won't use state funds to pay for the program but instead will redirect expanded financial aid resources, philanthropy and revenue from the increased number of out-of-state students at the university.
De Luca said the university is announcing the new program now because families usually discuss student finances during the winter break and the financial aid application process begins in early January. The forms are due in March.
According to university officials, the Public Policy Institute of California reports that about half of all families in the state are in the middle-income bracket. But Birgeneau said another survey found that 80 percent of Californians believe that they are in the middle class, a finding that he says supports the need for the new program.
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