Berkeley targets middle classes with financial aid (USA)

By Sarah Cunnane

The University of California, Berkeley has unveiled plans for a new financial aid scheme explicitly aimed at helping middle-class students with their tuition fees. The Berkeley Middle Class Access Plan is thought to be the first programme at a publicly-funded US university that gives comprehensive assistance to such students. Under the plans, parental contribution to the total annual cost – including fees, accommodation and books – will be capped at 15 per cent for families earning between $80,000 (£52,000) and $140,000 annually.  Robert Birgeneau, chancellor of UC Berkeley, said that the scheme was “necessary and completely consistent” with the institution’s ethos.

However, the university’s stance is at odds with a recent report by the College Board, which criticised institutions for “giving a lot of the money to people who could be fine without it”. The study said that such strategies – aimed at households earning between $100,000 and $180,000 – were akin to a department store offering discounts to encourage customers to spend more.

Despite this, Professor Birgeneau said that Berkeley’s aims were purely altruistic: “We see early signs that middle-income families who cannot access existing assistance programmes are straining to meet college costs. “As a public institution we feel strongly that we need to sustain and expand access across the socio-economic spectrum.  “This plan is part of our commitment to ensuring that financial challenges do not prevent qualified students from attending university.”

The new plan chimes with recent rhetoric from the Obama administration.Addressing a Florida high school last week, the vice-president Joe Biden acknowledged the burden that increasing tuition costs put on families. “The incredible cost of college education is for the first time crushing hundreds of parents,” he said. Berkeley confirmed that the funds for the new aid programme would not be taken out of state funds or impact on access plans already underway for disadvantaged students. It is expected that the money will instead come from financial aid resources, alumni donations and revenue from out-of-state tuition fees.

Source: The Times Higher Education