Bob Laird: UC regents president betray California students

Bob Laird: UC regents president betray California students
Bob Laird is the author of "The Case for Affirmative Action in University Admissions" (Bay Tree Publishing)

When I served as director of undergraduate admission at UC Berkeley from 1993 through 1999, I viewed the admission process at Berkeley as a public trust. The principal satisfaction I got was from helping ensure that as wide a range of California students as possible got access to the world-class education that Berkeley offered.

Now, however, the UC Board of Regents and UC President Mark Yudof have made disastrous changes in fee and enrollment policies that will sharply limit opportunities for California residents and severely damage the already meager enrollment levels of African American, Latino and Native American students, and the enrollment of low-income students in general.

Fee increases

The widely publicized 32 percent undergraduate fee increase passed by the UC regents Nov. 19 will severely damage opportunity for large numbers of California students and their families.

To begin with, Yudof implies that UC fees are the only financial problem UC students and their parents confront. The real issue, as the table at right demonstrates, is the total cost of attendance for a year, including not only fees but room and food, books and supplies, personal expenses and transportation.

Imagine: $30,544 for one year at a public university - making Berkeley almost certainly the most expensive public university in the country - in return for which students and their parents will get fewer classes, larger class sizes, a longer time until graduation, the elimination of academic programs and the sharp curtailment of many student services. And many families already are struggling with UC's high costs: 65 percent of Berkeley undergraduates qualify for need-based financial aid.

Second, Yudof points to the Blue and Gold Opportunity Plan as a new program that will be the solution to the undergraduate fee increases. This plan currently assures that all UC fees for students from families with annual incomes below $60,000 will be paid for with grant money. The problem is that the Blue and Gold program is largely just PR spin:

Most students with annual family incomes under $60,000 already get all of their fees paid through Pell Grants, Cal Grants and some university grant money. That's an important benefit, but it's deceptive, even cynical, for Yudof to pretend this policy is new or to claim UC credit for covering these fees.

The real problem for lower- and middle-income students and families is paying for those remaining costs - $20,000 added to the new fee total of $10,302. Without significant savings, their only options will be work or, especially, loans, but modest-income families are rightfully repelled by loan indebtedness, knowing that they might have little realistic chance of being able to repay such loans.

Yudof has increased unilaterally the income ceiling from $60,000 to $70,000 for the 2010-11 Blue and Gold Opportunity Plan - without having the money to cover the additional expenses that such an increase generates. He has instructed the individual campus chancellors to increase their fundraising efforts (as if the campuses haven't been desperately pursuing outside public and private funding for at least a decade), creating an unfunded mandate.

Enrollment policy changes

Even worse for poor students and students of color are the UC enrollment policy changes already taking place: reducing the overall freshman enrollment and replacing California resident freshmen with nonresident students to grab more money through nonresident tuition (an additional $22,717 per student this academic year). At Berkeley, for example, 575 to 600 California resident freshmen will be squeezed out next fall in favor of non-California residents. These steps not only betray Californians in general, they also sell out African American, Latino and Native American students in particular.

That is because within the group of truly extraordinary students admitted to Berkeley each fall, African American, Latino and Native American students tend to cluster in the lower quartile in part because many of them come from low-income families with fewer college graduates among the parents but mostly because many of them have gone through disadvantaged school systems from which we have stripped resources since even before the passage of Proposition 13 in 1978.

No one disputes the financial crisis confronting the state of California and its higher education segments, but there is an alternative. UC should support the oil and gas severance tax proposed by Assembly Majority Leader Alberto Torrico, D-Fremont, in AB656. Torrico argues that the bill would raise $1 billion annually for California public higher education. Instead of opposing this bill because he thinks the proposed share of such tax money allocated to UC is inadequate (the current plan is 60 percent to CSU, 30 percent to UC and 10 percent to community colleges), Yudof should support the bill and work to change the allocation proportions. Shifting the proportions to 40, 40 and 20 percent, for example, would mean $400 million to the University of California, nearly two-thirds of the $637 million budget cut UC sustained in the current state budget. If nothing else, the severance tax could serve as a funding bridge until the voters of California - and their legislators - decide to re-invest in public higher education.

I believe it is clear that, taken together, huge increases in fees - and therefore in the total cost of attendance - and avaricious enrollment policies that steal opportunity from California families will disproportionately affect low-income and African American, Latino and Native American students, and will significantly accelerate the severe damage to minority enrollments caused by Proposition 209's prohibition of affirmative action programs, damage from which Berkeley and the UC system overall have never come remotely close to overcoming. In that light, I believe that the regents and Yudof have betrayed their public trust.

What it really costs

Estimated one-year expenses for a California resident living in the residence halls at UC Berkeley, 2010-11:

Fees $10,302

Campus fees 1,678*

Room and food 15,308

Books and supplies 1,306

Personal expenses 1,336

Transportation 614

Total $30,544

* Includes mandatory health insurance and other fees

San Francisco Chronicle, 20/12/09