Campus & community, Campus news

Hopeful outlook for new academic year

By Yasmin Anwar

Artist's conception of Memorial Stadium
Renovation is underway on Memorial Stadium, including entrances to the Student-Athlete High Performance Center. (Artist's conception)

As fall classes begin this week at the University of California, Berkeley, the 2010-11 academic year promises to be markedly more upbeat than the last, with ramped-up faculty hiring, dozens more lower-division courses to help students graduate on time, and major progress on key construction projects, including the renovation of Memorial Stadium.

Students walking through Sather Gate

Students at Sather Gate (Steve McConnell/UC Berkeley)

A year after deep state budget cuts spurred the UC Regents to approve a 32 percent student fee hike and staff and faculty furloughs and layoffs, there are signs that UC Berkeley is beginning to bounce back, campus officials said.

“We took quick and effective action to address the most dire economic situation the UC Berkeley campus has faced in modern history, and focused on preserving our core mission — teaching and learning — while taking short- and long-term measures to put the campus on the path to fiscal stability,” said UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau.

“We are still attracting the best students, fundraising is robust, and we will have approved 67 new faculty searches this year,” Birgeneau added. “I’m cautiously optimistic that we are turning a corner.”

More than 10,000 new students are expected to register for the fall and spring semesters, including just over 5,000 freshmen, 2,500 transfer students and 2,800 graduate students.

This year, California residents will pay $9,402 in educational fees and an additional $3,060 that includes health insurance and other fees. This amounts to $12,462 for two semesters at UC Berkeley. For non-residents, tuition and all fees, including health insurance, total $35,341.

Nearly 18,000 students expected to receive financial aid

While tuition has risen this year, early data on financial aid packages suggests that nearly 18,000 students – more than 70 percent of the undergraduate student body – will receive some form of financial aid this academic year, a 5 percent increase over last year.

In addition, a record number of UC Berkeley students will benefit from federal Pell Grants. An estimated 37 percent of undergraduates are from families who earn $45,000 or less a year.

Entering class is geographically diverse

As usual, UC Berkeley’s incoming students represent a wide range of backgrounds, cultures and interests. The ethnic breakdown of the entering freshman class is projected to be 42 percent Asian American, 31 percent Caucasian, 12 percent Chicano/Latino, 3 percent African American, 3 percent Filipino and 0.8 percent Native American. Some 7 percent of students declined to state their ethnicity or reported it as “other.”

The campus’s four-year goal is to gradually shift the balance of non-residents from 11 percent to 20 percent of the student body. This year, that process has begun with California residents making up 80 percent of entering freshmen and transfer students, and out-of-state students comprising the remainder of the entering class.

As a result, this year’s incoming students include more international and out-of-state students than ever, bringing “a greater geographic diversity and broader mix of cultures and perspectives among our student body,” said Birgeneau.

“We have reduced the over-enrollment of California students for whom we do not receive state funding and are returning steadily to our budgeted enrollment targets for California residents,” he added.

Meanwhile, the campus’s Transfer, Reentry and Student Parent Center continues to recruit and assist non-traditional students, including veterans of military conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. This fall, 64 new veterans will be among the new undergraduates, bringing the overall number of veterans, including those who are graduate students, to 285.That’s an 89 percent increase from 2008, when UC Berkeley launched a strategic effort to welcome veterans of the conflicts in those countries.

Funds raised and offered to support, strengthen campus

On the fundraising front, UC Berkeley collected $313 million in donations from alumni, parents and other supporters for the year ending this past June, nearly $7 million more than the previous year. This amount brings the Campaign for Berkeley – launched in 2005 to raise $3 billion by 2013 to support students, faculty and research – well past the halfway mark at $1.8 billion.

To bolster research and academics, the campus also received numerous grants, including a $15 million award from the U.S. Department of Education to fund instruction, programs and fellowships in international and area studies for four years. The award will fund eight international study centers on campus.

This fall, the UC Berkeley Initiative for Equity, Inclusion and Diversity will be offering $125,000 in grant money to students, faculty and staff for projects that improve the climate for diverse groups across campus and encourage collaboration. The deadline for these competitive “innovation grants” is Nov. 1. The initiative was launched in February with a $16 million gift from the Evelyn and Walter Haas, Jr. Fund.

“These grants will seed our very best ideas to make UC Berkeley an accessible, engaging place for all members of our community, across race, ethnicity, economics, disability, sexuality and gender,” said Gibor Basri, vice chancellor for equity and inclusion.

Operational Excellence builds momentum

In the face of unpredictable state funding for higher education, UC Berkeley has taken major steps to advance Operational Excellence, an effort to ensure the campus’s long-term fiscal stability through streamlining operations that will save more than $75 million annually.

Teams of faculty members and administrators are examining how to improve the efficiency of the campus’s operations and services in six areas: procurement, information technology, energy management, student services, high-performance culture, and the financial management model.

Memorial Stadium and other construction projects on course

Artist's conception of Memorial Stadium

Renovation is underway on Memorial Stadium, including entrances to the Student-Athlete High Performance Center. (Artist's conception)

The renovation of 87-year-old California Memorial Stadium has begun, a major project made possible by privately-raised funds. Some interior offices and meeting rooms are being demolished and temporary braces along the west wall installed. The stadium will close temporarily for retrofit and renovation after the season’s last home football game. Home games are set to return to the stadium by fall 2012.

Many other key building projects needed for a great teaching and research university are under way, almost all of them funded through private-public partnerships. They include the Li Ka Shing Center for Biomedical and Health Sciences, the Helios/Energy Biosciences Institute building, and the new home for the Blum Center for Developing Economies, which will open this fall.

More lower-division courses offered, and rental texts

To ensure that all undergraduates get into the required lower-division courses they need to graduate, the campus will allocate a portion of the revenues generated from fee increases and out-of-state tuition to offer more courses in reading and composition and in math and science.

The first phase of the curriculum expansion begins this fall with 30 additional reading and composition courses that students need to complete before their junior year. The campus has allocated an annual $770,000 for additional reading and composition courses for freshmen, plus an additional $1.3 million over the next two years to address the backlog of sophomores, juniors and seniors still needing to satisfy the reading and composition requirement.

Starting next spring, more than $1 million will be allotted to increase the number of lower division classes in chemistry, math, physics and statistics. That amount will increase to $1.8 million in the 2011-12 academic year. Completion of these courses is critical to students completing degree requirements for a broad range of science and engineering majors.

In a separate effort, to fight the soaring cost of textbooks – which can total $1,000 a year – students this fall can rent select texts from the Cal Student Store for approximately half of the cost of a new textbook. UC Berkeley’s Rent-a-Text program offers more than 1,000 books, and more rental texts are expected in the future.

Students to debate DNA testing

Lively discussions about personalized medicine are expected this fall in the College of Letters and Science’s “On the Same Page” program, an annual event that invites students to examine a single thought-provoking book or movie.

Taking a different approach this year, the program invited freshmen and transfer students to provide DNA samples, voluntarily and anonymously, to learn about three gene variants responsible for metabolizing lactose, alcohol and folic acid. The results will be reported to students in aggregate this September and will be part of a comprehensive, multidisciplinary program this fall about the scientific and bioethical issues surrounding DNA testing.

“The joyful excitement of new students, the eager anticipation of new faculty, and the renewed energy of staff, faculty and students returning from a summer break all signal the arrival of the fall semester and an exciting year ahead,” Birgeneau said.