By Doug Oakley
UC Berkeley is launching a new financial aid program for middle-class students that caps yearly tuition and housing for families earning from $80,000 to $140,000 a year.
The Middle Class Access Plan, announced by Chancellor Robert Birgeneau on Wednesday, caps tuition and housing at 15 percent of income for families who fall in the range. University spokesman Dan Mogulof said the plan should benefit about 6,000 students or one-quarter of the student body. He said about 90 percent of students who qualify for the cap will be California residents.
Currently, families making less than $80,000 a year pay no tuition through an existing financial aid program, he said.
In addition to the family income requirements,families must have less than $200,000 in assets, excluding the value of a home or retirement savings.
In-state students who live on campus pay about $33,000 a year, including $13,000 for tuition. Out-of-state students pay about $55,000 a year.
The plan received guarded and skeptical response from some UC Berkeley students who have been agitating for change in the university system through protests under Occupy Cal.
"I'm skeptical because it feels like a small patch on a much larger and deeper problem," said graduate student Eva Hagberg, 29. "It sounds like a great break for students whose parents make $80,000 to $140,000, but it feels very minimal in comparison to the truly devastating state of public education funding in
California today. There's a crisis in state funding at all levels of education."
Zak Manfredi, a graduate student in rhetoric, said the plan shows that massive protests are getting leaders' attention, but it's not enough.
"It does show us that people are paying attention, and they will be responsive if we keep up mass mobilization, which we intend to do," Manfredi said. "But I think people would say it probably falls short in reducing the debt burden students face."
In announcing the program, Birgeneau said in a statement that the school has been committed to helping low-income families, but that middle-income families need help, too.
"We see early signs that middle-income families who cannot access existing assistance programs are straining to meet college costs," Birgeneau said.
The program will start next fall and cost between $10 million and $12 million a year.
The money will come from philanthropy and an increase in out-of-state students who pay the higher tuition.
Doug Oakley covers Berkeley. Contact him at 510-843-1408. Follow him at Twitter.com/douglasoakley.