Chancellor: ‘Tuition increases … a last but necessary resort’

UC Berkeley Chancellor Carol Christ sent the following message to the students, faculty and staff at UC Berkeley, as the UC Board of Regents considered a $342 annual tuition hike at their meeting in San Francisco:

Dear Campus Community,

Earlier today, at the request of UC President Janet Napolitano, I appeared before the regents to make the case for a moderate increase in tuition. In my remarks, I described Berkeley’s pressing need for funds that can support our students’ needs and interests. I also addressed a lingering misunderstanding on campus and beyond, by explaining that low-income students will not be impacted by any increase in tuition, which would be covered in their financial aid packages. To be clear, we see tuition increases as a last but necessary resort in the context of current state funding levels. Given the complexity of this issue, I want to share directly with you the most important portions of my remarks. (For those who are interested, the full version can be found on my website.)

I am eager to continue discussion and engagement with Berkeley’s students about this issue during my open office hours, fireside chats and other campus forums. Maintaining our paired commitment to access and excellence has become more difficult in recent years, and I am committed to meaningful and constructive dialogue as to how we maintain that balance.

Here are the key excerpts from today’s remarks:

Before describing how moderate, predictable increases in tuition would be used to support our students, I want to emphasize how seriously Berkeley takes its financial responsibilities. To reduce our operating costs, we have eliminated hundreds of administrative positions, and we are developing new, reliable sources of revenue, including a fund-raising campaign. Berkeley is doing its part with those financial levers we control. Yet even the rosiest of those projections make clear that these efforts, on their own, will not be enough to meet the needs and expectations of the students—and the public—that we serve.

The tuition increase being discussed today for the academic year 2018-19 is critical for maintaining the quality of education on the Berkeley campus. Since 2013-14, we have grown by 4,700 students (13 percent). Core funding for those students, including state funding and tuition net of financial aid, averaged $15,337; our average cost of instruction for that same four-year period was $25,331. This is not only not sustainable; it threatens our institution’s academic and research excellence.

To meet the challenge of increasing enrollments without sufficient funding, we have held the number of ladder rank faculty flat, thereby increasing the student/faculty ratio from 23 to 1 to 26 to 1.

Let me provide a concrete example of what this means. The average lower division lecture size in our department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science has gone from 65 students in 2011-12 to 227 in 2016-17, the number of students taught from 7,986 to 15,470. If the faculty had grown at the same rate as teaching workload, we would have added over 50 new computer science faculty.

The tuition increase would enable us to address these issues of overcrowding and unmet demand for courses. I’ve been troubled by the sheer numbers of students who have come to me with questions about basic instructional needs. They ask me to add more sections and reduce the size of classes. A tuition increase directly funds core instruction and would alleviate these pressures that students face.

Freezing tuition—not allowing modest increases—can actually add to the cost of attendance. Enrollment growth is having the undesired effect of making it harder for many students to get the courses they need, in the sequence they need to take them, in a timely fashion. We lengthen the time to degree, adding to individual students’ cost of attendance, because they wind up paying more semesters of tuition and more months of high Bay Area housing costs.

People sometimes argue that tuition increases are hardest on the neediest students, but that’s a false argument. Students receiving financial aid do not pay the increase; it is covered in their financial aid packages.

Graduate student support is also a significant and growing challenge to the campus. Graduate students are our future researchers, professors, and private sector leaders. The campus has cut graduate student fellowship block grants by 3 percent, or $800,000. It has also cut $2.5 million from programs directly benefitting graduate students—Parent Grants, Summer Program grants, and Travel Grants. Tuition increases help us fund these critical needs.

In my view, it is far better to have small, predictable tuition increases than to have a more volatile pattern of repeated freezes followed by double-digit spikes. It is better for families and better for our institutions.