Rising Tuition Costs for UC Students
Berkeley students hear the oft-repeated chants of “number one public university” all over campus. This statistic glares up from every admissions pamphlet, finds its way into every article written about UC Berkeley, and imprints itself onto the subconscious of every golden bear. Perhaps we’re all doomed to waking up in the middle of the night, haunted by the emblematic “number one public university!” slogan and eerie renditions of “Fight for California” even as we grow into middle age.
While this slogan’s emphasis is clearly on its “number one” aspect, perhaps we ought to more closely examine the significance of the denotation “public school” as we face increasing tuition costs. A wide spectrum of students attend UC Berkeley, ranging from those who could have afforded to attend private elite colleges to those who need to take out loans to pay for tuition and work full-time to send money home. Part of Berkeley's appeal is its ability to hold its own as a prestigious academic institution alongside schools like Stanford and Ivy League universities, whose tuitions and combined living fees often range from $60,000 to $70,000 a year. Sure, we have to fight over seats in some of the more crowded lecture halls, and there are holes in the ceilings of many of our campus bathrooms, but the quality of the faculty and of the education at UC Berkeley (if we assume the arbitrary rankings to be true), is on par with, and in many ways superior to, schools that charge tens of thousands of dollars more than what we pay. We must navigate larger, more bureaucratic structures than our private school counterparts, but we do so knowing that we attend a public institution, whose parameters and funding differ from those of private elites.
With all this in mind, it makes sense that students engage in peaceful protests and other means of expressing their frustration when confronted by increases in tuition. As a public institution, attending UC Berkeley should ostensibly be within the reach of any California resident, regardless of socioeconomic status. But how can we reconcile this aspect of public education with the reality of increased tuition fees? The University of California announced a proposal in January for the first tuition increase in six years, claiming that recent spikes in enrollment and reductions in state funding have left the UCs scrambling to afford hiring more faculty, build more classrooms, pay for financial aid, and offer more courses. The proposal includes a 2.5% increase in tuition to $11,502; in other words, a net increase of $282. The student services fee will also increase to $1,128, marking an increase of $54. Diane Klein, UC spokesperson, stated that financial aid would cover this increase in tuition for two-thirds of the student body.
However, while the increases of $282 and $54 seem to be reasonable, other factors related to the increasing size of the student body and decreasing space reveal the problematic nature of placing the burden of greater tuition fees on Berkeley students in the name of increasing enrollment. In the fall of 2016, UC Berkeley admitted 1,000 California residents more than it had in previous years. The problem is not allowing more students in (which is a cause for celebration of increased diversity), but rather the issue of how these students will fit into the campus structure once they’re assimilated into the school. Class sizes continue to swell, forcing professors to delegate more teaching responsibility and work to graduate students. With the renovations currently underway on Wheeler Hall, the pressure for more space seems especially noticeable. Furthermore, one must also consider the pressing urgency of the Bay Area’s housing crisis. Students at UC Berkeley currently pay anywhere from $700 to $1500 to share a room with another student off-campus. Studio prices creep steadily upward as landlords raise the prices of rent, while the desperation to find space grows greater and greater. CBS news ranks the Bay Area as the fourth most expensive place to live in the United States, which certainly is not a comforting reality for students.
Given the recent enrollment leap with rates unprecedented since the end of World War II, it makes sense that University of California must increase its revenue in order to maintain the high quality of the education it provides. However, there is a clearly problematic relationship between increases in enrollment and dwindling state resources. Especially with the Trump administration’s stance on funding education, the hope for increased governmental aid may be a futile one. We can look forward to the benefits to our infrastructure that the tuition increase will bring us, but we also must search for solutions to this unsustainable relationship between the University of California and its increased enrollment.