Fee Hike May Limit Access for Nonresident Students

Photo: <b>Eunjae Shin</b>, a first-year international undergraduate student from South Korea, is one of many nonresident students who may not be able to afford an increase in student fees.
Shirin Ghaffary/Photo
Eunjae Shin, a first-year international undergraduate student from South Korea, is one of many nonresident students who may not be able to afford an increase in student fees.

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Like many low-income students at UC Berkeley, sophomore Jessi Purcell works part-time and takes out loans to finance the ever-rising cost of her UC education.

But with the contentious 32 percent fee increase passed last month by the UC Board of Regents, her efforts may not be enough. If fees continue to rise, Purcell says she may be forced to do the unthinkable: transfer to Stanford.

Purcell, an out-of-state student from Oregon who is not eligible for resident aid programs like the Blue and Gold Opportunity Plan, is currently paying $31,395 in total fees, about $7,500 of which are covered by loans and her campus job as a secretary for Boalt Hall School of Law. At a private institution like Stanford, she said, she would qualify for full financial aid.

"Pretty much my only other option-other than taking out more loans and working more hours-would be to transfer to a private school," she said. "I just really won't have a choice."

The fee hike, which was passed on Nov. 19 and will raise UC fees by 15 percent for each of the next two semesters, is causing many nonresident students like Purcell to reconsider their college plans. Under the increase, nonresidents will have to shell out a total of $34,166 in fees annually by 2010-11, while undergraduate residents will pay $11,287, according to the UC operational budget.

The increase was passed simultaneously with an expansion of the Blue and Gold Plan, which will cover up to the amount of systemwide fees for in-state students who apply for financial aid and whose families make less than $70,000 a year starting next fall.

But the plan does not apply to nonresidents, despite the fact that the campus hopes to increase the number of nonresidents to 20 percent of the undergraduate student body.

"It's just scary because you don't know where the money will come from," Purcell said. "My parents have already given me all that they can."

Purcell said she came to UC Berkeley because the diversity and caliber of academics far exceeded that of schools in Oregon and because she believes in public education. But with a family income of $20,000 and financial aid failing to cover many of her expenses, she said she may have to sacrifice that belief.

While the university's primary focus is to serve the students of California, it will continue to try to appeal to nonresidents as well, according to UC spokesperson Ricardo Vazquez.

"With the fee increases, some international and out-of-state families may have to pay more, and some of those students may need to work and borrow more," he said. "But we do believe that as the premier public institution in the country ... we will continue to attract these international and out-of-state students. In fact, the fee increase will help us to preserve that very quality that helps us attract those students."

An increase of a few thousand dollars may seem minimal compared to the amount nonresidents pay annually. But for some of the 3,269 undergraduate and graduate international students on campus, the additional fee exceeds their financial threshold.

"It's a crucial point for me because my dad is making around $50,000 a year, and my mom doesn't have an income," said freshman Eunjae Shin, an international student from South Korea who currently pays around $50,000, including room and board. "Just the fact that it's increasing is very discouraging for me to be here at Berkeley."

Shin said he will likely finish out the academic year at Berkeley. However, he expects he will then have to return to South Korea, where he will work or serve in the army for two years until-he hopes-he can afford to return.

He added that the fee increase is evidence that the university is sacrificing its commitment to serving students from a diversity of backgrounds-a concern shared by many of his peers.

"Berkeley is supposed to be the crown jewel of education, and as a public university, its point is to provide education to everybody," Shin said. "But it seems like Berkeley ... is losing its identity."

Though there are no numbers on how many students will not be able to attend UC Berkeley given the fee hike, middle-class students will be especially hard-hit, said Rachelle Feldman, the campus's associate director of financial aid.

"It's impossible to know anyone's particular situation, but it will be students who come from families where they're not low-income enough to be grant-eligible at Berkeley, but they're also not wealthy enough to cover out of pocket, so they have to take loans out to cover their education," she said.

Sophomore Jasmine Jahanshahi, an out-of-state student from Florida who is considered middle-class, said her family is feeling the weight of financing her education, especially since she is not eligible for UC aid.

"It's hard to qualify for any financial aid at Berkeley," she said. "It's very black-and-white, and I feel like a lot of variables aren't taken into account. I think this is a trend: Lower middle-class families, or even upper middle-class families, feel like they get ignored in the financial aid process."

Jahanshahi came to Berkeley believing that tuition costs would remain relatively stable. But such a sharp increase has forced her to re-evaluate her finances, including considering taking out loans, applying for merit-based scholarships and cutting down on trips home.

"Yes, my parents can afford the fee increase," she said. "But that does not mean the increase is affordable."


Contact Rachel Gross at [email protected]

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