Testimony to the UC Board of Regents - January 24, 2018

UC Berkeley Chancellor Carol Christ delivered the following testimony to the University of California Board of Regents on January 24, 2018:

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to talk about this important issue.  Before describing how moderate, predictable increases in tuition would be used to support our students, I want to emphasize how seriously Berkeley takes its financial responsibilities. To reduce our operating costs, we have eliminated hundreds of administrative positions, and we are developing new, reliable sources of revenue, including a fund-raising campaign.  Berkeley is doing its part with those financial levers we control.  Yet even the rosiest of those projections make clear that these efforts, on their own, will not be enough to meet the needs and expectations of the students—and the public—that we serve.

The tuition increase being discussed today for the academic year 2018-19 is critical for maintaining the quality of education on the Berkeley campus.  Since 2013-14, we have grown by 4,700 students (13%).  Core funding for those students, including state funding and tuition net of financial aid, averaged $15,337; our average cost of instruction for that same four-year period was $25,331.  We were able to subsidize core tuition with non-resident tuition but still had an average funding gap of $5,500 per student.  This is not only not sustainable; it threatens our institution’s academic and research excellence.

To meet the challenge of increasing enrollments without sufficient funding, we have held the number of ladder rank faculty flat, thereby increasing the student/faculty ratio from 23 to 1 to 26 to 1.

Let me provide a concrete example of what this means. The average lower division lecture size in our department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science has gone from 65 students in 2011-12 to 227 in 2016-17, the number of students taught from 7,986 to 15,470.  If the faculty had grown at the same rate as teaching workload, we would have added over 50 new computer science faculty. 

We adjust to increasing demand like that in computer science by what we call the temporary academic staff budget—the additional resources we give to departments to hire more lecturers and graduate student instructors.  Yet despite these expenditures, we still fall short.  Introductory chemistry, critical for all our STEM majors, could be expanded to meet demand if we had more funds; lack of funds is creating severe impaction in introductory and intermediate business and economics and many bottlenecks in our engineering majors.  The tuition increase would enable us to address these issues of overcrowding and unmet demand for courses.

I hold office hours in the library every month for students to share their concerns with me; I’ve been troubled by the sheer numbers of students who have come to me with questions about basic instructional needs.  They ask me to add more sections and reduce the size of classes.  A tuition increase directly funds core instruction and would alleviate these pressures that students face.

Freezing tuition—not allowing modest increases—can actually add to the cost of attendance.  Enrollment growth is having the undesired effect of making it harder for many students to get the courses they need, in the sequence they need to take them, in a timely fashion.  We lengthen the time to degree, adding to individual students’ cost of attendance, because they wind up paying more semesters of tuition and more months of high Bay area housing costs. 

People sometimes argue that tuition increases are hardest on the neediest students, but that’s a false argument.  Students receiving financial aid do not pay the increase; it is covered in their financial aid packages.

At the same time student expectations are growing for what they see as important support services that underpin their educational experience—advising, mental health services, campus safety improvements, food security.     And these are critical, as those of you know who are or have been parents of college students.

Graduate student support is also a significant and growing challenge to the campus.  Graduate students are our future researchers, professors, and private sector leaders.  The campus has cut graduate student fellowship block grants by 3 percent, or $800,000.  It has also cut $2.5 million from programs directly benefitting graduate students—Parent Grants, Summer Program grants, and Travel Grants.  Tuition increases help us fund these critical needs.

The Berkeley campus currently has a $700,000,000 deferred maintenance backlog.  I hear stories every week of emergency repairs necessitated by deferred maintenance problems too long deferred--failures in everything from exhaust systems to elevators.  The Department of Chemistry was recently unable to recruit one of the world’s leading chemists because even with renovation the laboratory could not be brought to a condition adequate for his needs.  An assistant professor had to have her tenure clock extended because her lab was flooded as a consequence of a maintenance issue.  Critical instructional space is not being renovated, needed new classrooms to deal with enrollment growth are not getting built, and existing technology is not being properly maintained.

In my view, it is far better to have small, predictable tuition increases than to have a more volatile pattern of repeated freezes followed by double-digit spikes.  It is better for families and better for our institutions.  I urge your support of this proposal.