UC Berkeley's gift to middle-class families: a cap on college costs
UC Berkeley's plan, similar to tuition caps at elite private institutions, is the first such initiative at a public university. It will cap costs at 15 percent of household income for families earning between $80,000 and $140,000.
The University of California at BerkeleyÂ is sending an early holiday gift to middle-class families strugglingÂ to send theirÂ offspring to Americaâ€™sÂ top-ranked public institution of higher education.
As of fall 2012, the flagship campus in the UC system will cap the amount that families with annual incomes between $80,000 and $140,000 must pay at 15 percent of household income.
The MCAP (for Middle-Class Access Plan) is the first such initiative at a public university. Several top-tier private schools such as Harvard, Princeton, and Wellesley College have either cappedÂ tuitionÂ at 10 percent of income for familiesÂ earning under $200,000 or limited the amount of student debt at graduation to less than $15,000.
Unveiling the plan at a press conference, Berkeleyâ€™s chancellor, Robert Birgeneau, noted that the move is in recognition of Californiaâ€™s high cost of living and the challengesÂ mid-range families faceÂ as they price out of aid available to the poorest students, not to mention the significant tuition increases of recent years.
â€śBerkeley has an outstanding record of providing access through financial aid for students. As a result, our undergraduates leave college with among the lowest levels of student debt in the country,â€ť said Mr. Birgeneau. But, he added, while a strong commitment to financial aid has led to both an increasing number of lower-income students on the Berkeley campus and a reduction in their costs,Â â€śwe see early signs that middle-income families who cannot access existing assistance programs are straining to meet college costs.â€ť
As a public institution, he adds, â€śwe feel strongly that we need to sustain and expand access across the socio-economic spectrum.â€ť
The additional aid willÂ beÂ raised in part from increased philanthropy and higher numbers of out-of-state students, who pay an additional $22,878 per year. This is on top of the estimated $32,000 for resident students. The 15 percent cap is available to out-of-state students, but will not apply to the nonresident surcharge.
Such a public commitment to this hard-hit sector, he says, â€świll force other leading public institutions to step up to the plate.â€ť Not all will be able to make the same commitment, he notes, because public universities rely on state legislaturesÂ for the majority of their funds, â€śand mostÂ state budgets are hard-hit and cutting back, particularly in the past two years.â€ť
The major higher educationalÂ institutions areÂ intensely competitive for the top students, he notes. So, while he says he hasnâ€™t yet fielded calls from any collegeÂ presidents, â€śIÂ imagine more than a few are gritting their teeth and saying this isÂ something we canâ€™t ignore.â€ť
While the large, public, and elite private schools typically have more resources to commit to such overtures,Â small and medium-size institutions are also keenly aware of theÂ demand to addressÂ the needs of the middle-income family, says Debra Townsley, president of William Peace University in Raleigh,Â N.C. The school just reduced its 2012-13Â tuition by 7.73 percent.
â€śWeâ€™ve been talking about this for years,â€ť she says, but notes that the demands have increasedÂ as the economy has worsened.
â€śThe very wealthy and the very poor have access to higher education,â€ť she says, â€śbut it is very difficult for the middle-income families to qualify for the kinds of aidÂ available to the lowest-income families.â€ť
She notes that many smaller schools will not be able toÂ match the UC Berkeley offer, but she adds, â€ścolleges and universities all over the country are searching hard for ways to respond and are doingÂ what they can within their own constraints.â€ť