The University of California system’s recent decision to cover tuition and student service fees for in-state undergraduate and graduate students enrolled in federally recognized Native American, American Indian and Alaska Native tribes was cheered at Berkeley Law. Faculty, staff and students alike are all too aware there of Native Americans’ dire underrepresentation in law schools and the legal profession.
But the UC Native American Opportunity Plan, announced April 28, does not cover professional degree supplemental tuition (PDST), which at $21,334 per semester makes up the bulk of law students’ costs this year. Tuition is $5,721 per semester.
So, with the approval of Dean Erwin Chemerinsky, Berkeley Law announced this week that it will cover the PDST for qualifying students starting this fall by using existing financial aid dollars. The PDST is set by the UC Regents for all professional school students.
Kristin Theis-Alvarez, Berkeley Law’s dean of admissions and financial aid, proposed the plan to Chemerinsky, realizing that asking Native American students to cover the PDST “would remain a significant impediment” for them to attend the top law school. She said she also hopes the new program will spark additional ways at Berkeley Law to attract and retain Native American and Indigenous students.
The school’s coverage of the PDST will allow more Native American students to attend Berkeley Law and then work in their communities, said student Asunción Hampson-Medina, co-chair of the Berkeley Native American Law Student Association. She added that only 1% of people in the legal profession are Native and Indigenous lawyers.
“So many barriers to political and economic power have been put up against Indigenous people for centuries,” said Hampson-Medina, “and this is just one way to make up for that injustice and support Indigenous students who want to succeed in the legal field.”
Chemerinsky added that the law school’s tuition commitment “also is part of an important, larger effort to create a top program in Indian law at Berkeley Law.”