UC Berkeley Suggests Campus-Specific Fees

    UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert J. Birgeneau released a report last month recommending a plan to give each UC campus the authority to determine its respective student tuition.

    The Nov. 21 report, titled “Access and Excellence,” proposes that each campus be granted the power to set its own student tuition, as long as it remains within 25 percent deviation from a predetermined midpoint. Birgeneau said the objective of the plan is to shape the 10 UC campuses — Berkeley in particular — into comparable alternatives to the nation’s elite private universities without compromising the university’s public nature.

    Birgeneau distinguishes the differences between tuition and fees within the report, defining student fees as an addition to tuition to be used exclusively for faculty salaries and financial aid. Because the various campuses have differing costs in their methods of providing education, the report contends campus-specific fees would allow each UC campus to grow academically.

    Under the plan, newer UC campuses would have the option of decreasing fees to encourage recruitment through affordability, while the system’s more established campuses might choose to increase fees — thus reducing the student-to-faculty ratio and increasing faculty salary to promote excellence in research and education.

    Birgeneau added that the fee increase would also generate enough money to provide financial aid for all students who fall within the range of low to middle income. Students from families of high income, defined as earning over $130,000 per year, would not be given access to financial aid and would be required to pay the full amount of any fee increase.

    “Some campuses might choose a lower number to enhance their economic competitiveness, while others, like Berkeley, might choose a higher number,” Birgeneau said in the report. “For example, if Berkeley were able to institute a fee increase of $2,000 per student … it would generate revenue up to $70 million per year. A $2,000 fee increase would increase the total cost of attending Berkeley by less than 10 percent.”

    In addition to a fluctuation in fees, Birgeneau said that in order to achieve a higher standard of education, student tuition should be increased to cover one-third the cost of a UC education, compared to the currnent one-quarter. With the $48 million cut in this year’s state-funding and another potential $65.5 million midyear cut, in addition to the predicted freshmen enrollment limit for the 2009-10 school year, Birgeneau said his proposal — released two days after the UC Board of Regents announced the possibility of a student-fee increase for next year —­ would alleviate some of the university’s financial shortcomings.

    UCSD spokeswoman Stacie A. Spector said Chancellor Marye Anne Fox has yet to consider any proposals as dramatic as Birgeneau’s in addressing campus funding issues, continuing to focus on more immediate solutions to the problematic cash deficit.

    “What [Fox] has shared with folks from a general standpoint is that the current budget challenges from the state — and the impact on UC as well as the campuses — has prompted us to cut back on spending and costs considerably,” Spector said. “We remain focused on protecting the academic enterprise, classroom teaching and research laboratories, while being highly careful and conservative in how we allocate funds.”

    Birgeneau’s proposition contradicts the university’s long-standing commitment to maintaining equal tuition and faculty salaries across all 10 UC campuses on the basis that all campuses will eventually reach the same level of merit, and the UC Board of Regents has consistently opposed past proposals to allow campus-set tuition. However, UC President Mark G. Yudof, new to the issue after entering the office in March, said he was open to considering Birgeneau’s plan.

    “The president and the university respect the views of Chancellor Birgeneau, and we will be discussing those ideas and that proposal with him,” UC spokesman Ricardo Vazquez said. “Ultimately, it will be the regents’ decision.”

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