Chancellor expresses concerns about proposed constitutional amendment

A message from Chancellor Birgeneau

On May 16, California state Sen. Michael Rubio introduced a proposed amendment to the state’s constitution that would restrict the enrollment of out-of-state and international students on University of California campuses to 10 percent of undergraduate enrollment. If cleared for the ballot by both houses of the Legislature and passed by voters this November, Senate Constitutional Amendment 22 would take effect in the fall of 2013. Its provisions would mandate that at least 90 percent of every incoming undergraduate class, on each of the UC campuses, be comprised of in-state students.

While passage of the amendment is far from certain, the proposed legislation has already attracted significant opposition. Critics, including university officials, say that the amendment poses a direct threat to university autonomy by enabling the legislature to dictate admissions policies. Others, including myself, have cited a long list of unintended consequences that would result from passage. In addition to enriching the educational experience of California students, non-residents represent a crucial revenue stream for the campus. The loss of funding generated by non-residents would mean a reduction of funds available for financial aid provided to in-state students including especially middle class and undocumented students, increased pressure to raise in-state tuition, and reduced access to required gateway courses that would in turn mean longer times to graduation for California students. Importantly, increasing the percentage of out-of-state and international students to 20 percent of undergraduate enrolment does not eliminate slots for Californians on the Berkeley campus.

Since the amendment’s introduction, representatives of the university and other, independent organizations have been contacting legislators to ensure that they understand the full extent of the amendment’s potential impact on a UC system that has been forced to deal with unprecedented cuts in state funding. Earlier this week I sent the following letter to Senator Rubio, the amendment’s author:


The Honorable Michael Rubio
California State Senate
State Capitol, Room 2066
Sacramento, CA 95814

Dear Senator Rubio:

I write to express my deep concern over Senate Constitutional Amendment 22 (SCA 22), a proposed constitutional amendment that would limit non-resident enrollment to 10% at each UC campus. I believe that we share the common goal of providing a high-quality, accessible education at UC Berkeley for California’s most promising students as well as bringing to our state extraordinarily talented young people who would make great global ambassadors for the State and prospective future citizens of California. We both want these students to be able to contribute fully to the economic and social vitality of our state. Unfortunately, SCA 22 would have unintended consequences that would make it extremely difficult to achieve what I believe to be our common goals.

Our policy of increasing non-resident undergraduate enrollment to 20% of our student body is crucial to ensuring a predictable and reliable revenue stream and maintaining affordability for our California students while also enriching the educational experience for our students. Students from other parts of the United States, and from around the world, are valuable members of the Cal community and it has been my long-held view that an increase in out-of-state and international undergraduate students is a critical educational goal at Berkeley. In addition to generating funds for educational support and financial aid, they also bring perspectives, experiences, and cultures to the campus, that benefit all students.

A fundamental feature of our enrollment strategy is that non-resident students do not displace California students. Specifically, we enroll more California students now than we did in 2003, when the State provided nearly twice the amount of funding for UC Berkeley than it does at the present time. We are committed to maintaining that level of resident enrollment (21,000 California residents) moving forward. This means that we are meeting our commitment to the Master Plan for California residents and we intend to do so for the indefinite future, barring a continuing collapse in state funding of UC. Importantly, the out-of-state and international students are accommodated by an increase in the size of our undergraduate student body, not by eliminating slots for Californians.

So, what would the consequences be for our California undergraduate students at Berkeley if the number of out-of-state and international students were capped at 10%? First, this would lead to a shortfall in revenue of nearly $60,000,000 which would inevitably have to be made up by an increase in tuition. This would amount to about $3,000 per student, thence increasing the burden on Californian students to a near intolerable level. For Berkeley undergraduates who must take out loans this would increase their indebtedness on graduation from the current value of $16,000 to as much as $28,000.

Second, we would have to eliminate our recently announced middle class access financial aid plan (MCAP). MCAP provides substantial financial aid to students from families whose incomes range from $80,000 to $140,000; it also guarantees these students that their costs will not go up during their time as undergraduates. Berkeley is the only public university in the country which offers such financial aid to middle class students. This program would no longer be affordable.

Third, Berkeley has led the way in California in providing substantial financial aid to undocumented students, made legal by AB 130; this would also be no longer affordable. Specifically, we would not be able to provide support in place of federal Pell Grants since Californian undocumented students remain ineligible for federal aid in spite of the passage of AB 130 and AB 131. As you know, Assemblyman Cedillo and I worked hard to ensure the passage and signing of those two bills and it would be a tragedy if our undocumented students would remain so disadvantaged.

Fourth, it would become significantly more difficult for California residents to graduate in four years; before our increase in the number of out-of-state and international students many of our large gateway courses were heavily impacted.   We have been able to expand enrollments in our science, social science and language gateway courses using the resources provided by the increased tuition paid by our out-of-state and international students.  This would no longer be possible.

I could go on but I believe that these examples show that the matter is very complicated and that Californians benefit enormously both financially and educationally from having a substantial number of out-of-state and international fellow students.  At Berkeley, capping the number at 10% would do irreparable harm to Californians.

When I arrived at Berkeley in 2004, our primary source of revenue was state general fund support. In just eight years that situation has changed drastically. State support has fallen to fourth place as a source of revenue for UC Berkeley, behind research funding, philanthropy, and tuition. Several years ago, we recognized that the current financial model would be unsustainable and since then have identified, developed and implemented a carefully crafted plan to place Berkeley on a firm financial footing well into the future. Although increasing non-resident enrollment is one important element of that plan, our first act was to reduce significantly our administrative costs. Operational Excellence, a program we launched to make the University’s operations more efficient, has already achieved more than $30 million in annual, ongoing operational savings thus far.

Through our efforts in improvements in areas such as procurement, organizational simplification, energy efficiency and infrastructure improvements, we are on track to achieve savings of at least $75 million per year when our Operational Excellence program is fully implemented.  Additionally, UC Berkeley has focused intently on maximizing non-state funds. We have succeeded in increasing significantly federal research dollars and philanthropic support despite the challenges of a flagging economy. Unfortunately, we also have had to respond to the decline in state support through layoffs, furloughs, frozen salaries and system-wide tuition increases. Capping undergraduate enrollment at 10% for international and out-of-state students would require more such actions, seriously harming our educational mission.

I know that we share common goals for the education of our California students. I hope that, in light of the above, you will withdraw your proposed constitutional amendment SCA 22.

With warm regards.

Yours sincerely,
Robert J. Birgeneau