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UC Berkeley Considers Tuition Hike

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Wednesday March 11, 2009 - 07:11:00 PM

UC Berkeley announced plans to institute a 9.3 percent tuition increase to address a state budget crisis that is taking away millions of dollars in public education funding. 

The proposed fee hike would take effect July 1 and would increase undergraduate tuition from $7,126 a year to about $7,789. 

The UC Board of Regents is scheduled to vote on the fee increase in May. 

Student service fees are also expected to rise. 

UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau told reporters Tuesday that a $60 million to $70 million funding shortfall for the 2009-10 fiscal year prompted university officials to increase fees, institute a staff hiring freeze, temporarily slow down faculty hiring and expand a program that encourages employees to reduce their work hours.  

Birgeneau said that until further notice, all career and contract staff positions will be frozen. 

He said the projected deficit includes a $15 million shortfall from the 2008-09 fiscal year, a $10 million to 20 million permanent state budget cut in 2009-10, and $35 million in unfunded obligations such as utilities, health and medical benefits, faculty merit and employee pay increases, and the anticipated restart of pension contributions. 

The chancellor said that in the coming weeks the university would have to implement permanent staff layoffs, but that efforts would be taken to minimize that by asking employees to take advantage of programs designed to reduce workforce expenses. 

“We’re not able yet to determine to what extent layoffs will be necessary in individual units,” he said. 

The university has already decreased faculty hiring from about 100 hires a year to about 25 in 2008-09 and 2009-10, which is expected to save about $5 million annually in salaries. 

Birgeneau acknowledged that the fee hikes would have a significant impact on students, particularly those from middle-class backgrounds. 

Under the proposal, families making more than $100,000 would pay the full fee increase. Families earning between $60,000 to $100,000 would pay half the fee increase, or about 4.65 percent. Families earning less than $60,000 would not be subject to the increase. 

Birgeneau said that the university administration rejected the possibility of top officials at the Berkeley campus taking a salary cut. 

“Obviously this is one of the things that we have considered,” he said. ‘Further reductions of senior administrators’ salaries would damage our ability to attract outstanding people.” 

He said that some university officials had responded generously to his call for help and donated parts of their salaries.  

Frank Yeary, a vice chancellor, donated his entire $200,000-a-year salary to the university. 

He said that UC’s Office of the President was considering six-day unpaid furloughs for staff and administrators for the next academic year. 

Birgeneau added that the university would not compromise on its quality of undergraduate education and would continue to make it accessible and affordable to California residents. 

“We expect to maintain a robust undergraduate program, but we will not be able to achieve that unless every department pitches in,” he said. 

Other UC campuses facing similar challenges are expected to adopt similar cost-cutting measures. 

George Breslauer, the university’s executive vice-chancellor and provost, said that the Berkeley campus has a $1.8 billion budget, $500 million of which comes from the state. 

Breslauer said that the campus was bracing for an 8 percent permanent budget reduction. 

He added that despite all the cuts that were taking place, he would be increasing the financial support allocated to undergraduate curriculum from his budget to “avoid this serious budgetary situation creating bottlenecks in student access to courses.” 

Nathan Brostrom, the campus’s vice chancellor for administration, said that the university was appealing to wealthy Californians to come forward in this time of crisis to support public education. 

He said that, even in these difficult times, private donations had been higher than ever at the university over the last eight months. 

Bergeneau said he was hoping that the money set aside in the federal stimulus bill for research in energy reforms and other areas would give UC Berkeley a much needed boost in funding.