Thursday, February 6, 2014

UC Berkeley Chancellor Pledges More Support for Undergrads

By Doug Oakley
Staff Writer
Bay Area News Group

BERKELEY -- UC Berkeley should focus more on its undergraduate students to make sure they don't "fall through the cracks and waste precious time and money," the new chancellor said Tuesday night, echoing comments by Gov. Jerry Brown last week. 

Chancellor Nicholas Dirks made the comments during a live Internet broadcast on YouTube on Tuesday night in an event sponsored by the Cal Alumni Association, the first of its kind at UC Berkeley. 

Dirks spoke on issues raised by more than 1,000 questions submitted before the broadcast. 

"I think we can do better" with services provided in UC Berkeley's undergraduate education, Dirks said in the hourlong broadcast, adding that the school has been preoccupied with research and rankings of graduate programs. 

"If you don't have the most comprehensive forms of attention paid to the undergraduate experience, you're not dealing with the first and foremost part of our public operation," he said. 

His comments echoed those of Brown last week who unveiled a 5 percent increase in funding for the University of California system, along with bigger increases for community colleges and the California State University system. The money for higher education, Brown hinted at his news conference, comes with an understanding that students get more support so they can get through the system faster. 

The price of tuition and books are so high these days that "it argues very strongly for making sure students get their degree much sooner than is the case today," Brown said. 

Dirks said although the school only gets 12 percent of its money from the state, down from 30 percent in 2004, he hasn't given up on squeezing more money out of Sacramento. UC Berkeley's total budget is about $2.1 billion. 

"I've been spending a lot of time in Sacramento and have been talking with the governor," Dirks said. 

At the same time, he would like to turn up the heat on the wealthy individuals and corporations for funding. 

"I came from Columbia University, where we had an $8 billion endowment," said Dirks, who was vice president there before moving to Berkeley in June. "A 5 percent payout from that helps. Until we build an endowment, we can't say we can do without state funding." 

UC Berkeley has an endowment of about $1.2 billion. 

Dirks ruled out ramping up online classes to make the school more affordable because "we would be losing the essence of what we do here." 

While announcing no new programs or details on how he would help make UC Berkeley more affordable, which he said runs $13,000 a year for California residents before fees, he said current tuition support programs mean about 40 percent of students pay no tuition at all. 

"But the bottom line is that education is expensive," Dirks said. "We're in a different world now." 

Contact Doug Oakley at 925-234-1699. Follow him on Twitter at

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