Middle-class families make sacrifices to afford UC Berkeley education

Freshman Troy Santos, whose family is considered upper-middle class, was surprised by the drastic lifestyle changes his parents made to afford the costs of UC Berkeley.
Gracie Malley/Staff
Freshman Troy Santos, whose family is considered upper-middle class, was surprised by the drastic lifestyle changes his parents made to afford the costs of UC Berkeley.

Troy Santos, a UC Berkeley freshman, has had to make adjustments in order to acclimate to college life, but he did not expect his parents to also have to drastically change their lifestyle to afford his education.

“They eat out less, definitely, and they sold my car once I moved to Berkeley,” Santos said. “We obviously can’t get as many luxury things or whatnot. They take more trips to Costco.”

Everyday sacrifices aside, Santos said he is most grateful for the long-term life choices his parents have made in order to afford all four years of his college education.

“My parents fixed their mortgage rate so they’d have more money to spend on my expenses for the next few years,” he said. “They had about 10 years left on the mortgage for the house, and that extended it to 15.”

Santos’ family is considered upper-middle class — his father is an electrical engineer and his mother is an accountant — and as a result must take out loans since he qualifies for very little financial aid.

The sacrifices required of families like Santos’ to enable their children to attend college help explain the decrease in UC undergraduates whose family incomes are considered middle or upper-middle class, which is shown in the University of California 2011 Accountability Report.

(Source: 2011 UC Accountability Report, Academic Planning, Programs and Coordination (Michelle Bu/Staff)

The report — produced by the UC Academic Planning, Programs and Coordination office — shows that while the number of UC undergraduates supported by families who have lower- or upper-class incomes has increased, the number of students in between has decreased.

According to the report, over the last 10 years, the proportions of undergraduates whose families had lower- or upper-class incomes each increased 5 percent. But over that same period, the percentage of students whose families had middle-class incomes dropped 3 percent, and the proportion of students whose families have upper-middle class incomes fell 6 percent.

Anne de Luca, acting associate vice chancellor of campus admissions and enrollment, said that the proportions at UC Berkeley have been fairly stable for the last five years, though last year more students who reported their families’ income level fell into the upper-class range.

“Our effort is to try to recruit and enroll classes that represent California,” de Luca said. “We feel like in a number of ways we’re maintaining access for (middle-class) families.”

The report provides two potential causes for the drop in undergraduates from middle-income families: a general decline of middle-income families in California and the perception by middle-class families that the UC is no longer affordable.

Hans Johnson, senior policy fellow at the Public Policy Institute of California, has researched the family income levels of California high school students, who make up the majority of the UC applicant pool. He said that while he agrees with both of the possible explanations, the first is more significant.

“It’s not surprising that there’s fewer middle-income students applying at the UC,” Johnson said. “But I worry that a lot of people see those news stories about increasing UC tuition and fees and conclude that they can’t afford to go to UC. That’s simply not the case for students from low- and middle-income families.”

In the past few years, the UC has taken steps to improve access for students from middle-income families by expanding the UC Blue and Gold Opportunity Plan to cover California undergraduates whose families make $80,000 or less. The UC is also providing grants to in-state students with family incomes below $120,000 to help cover the fall 2011 fee increase.

“It’s really impressive what (the UC has) done in the face of state budget cuts,” Johnson said. “They’ve done a good job trying to protect low- and middle-income students.”

Still, at UC Berkeley, about 17 percent of dependent undergraduates come from the upper-middle class — the smallest proportion of any income group at UC Berkeley. As a part of a family that falls in this income group, Santos works hard to make sure he does not waste his parents’ annual $30,000 investment.

He spends most weekday evenings underground, sitting cloistered between seemingly endless shelves in Main Stacks, reading and completing homework until midnight or later.

“I could have just gone to community college for two years, but they want me to have the full college experience,” Santos said. “If I did that, they probably would be able to retire earlier, so I definitely want to return the favor once I start working. I’m going to help my sister, who’s in the eighth grade, with her college tuition so my parents won’t have to take out any more loans.”

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  • Anonymous

    “Our effort is to try to recruit and enroll classes that represent California,” de Luca said.
    What a laugh!  Note that no mention was made of the huge increase in admissions for students from outside of California.  They don’t represent California because they are not from California.   They have stellar academics and probably wealthy parents who can afford out-of-state tuition, but the rush to enroll these highly qualified students pushes out California natives who are not poor enough to get admitted based on personal adversity, not dark enough to increase the diversity quota,  and not wealthy enough to afford 4 years of U.C. even if they do get accepted.  They can’t even apply for Cal scholarships reserved for illegal aliens.  Whenever tuition hikes are announced it’s a double whammy because not only do they pay for their increased tuition, they also pay for the increased tuition of low income Cal students.

    • Guest

      The median household income in California is under $55,000 right now (2010 census)

  • Guest

    What would be interesting to know is, how did these income groups change in California as a whole over the same period? I suspect the2008  housing and financial crisis may have substantially hurt the middle class and decreased their income, could that explain part of the change we see there?

    • Guest

       The change is a predictable  response to charging no tuition to students coming from families making less than $80,000 per year and financing grants for their living expenses by increasing the costs of those not eligible for any grant type financial aid, thereby making college unaffordable for many students coming from families not far enough over the $80,o00 threshold to be able to afford a now very costly UC education. It is only going to become more skewed  in Fall of 2012 given UC’s new admissions scheme whereby any student in the top 9% of any high school by class rank   is deemed UC qualified for admission regardless of Sat scores or the competitive level of the high school and with there no longer a requirement to even take Sat Subject Exams. There is going to be a flood of  applicants eligible for a free Blue and Gold education.

    • Guest

      the housing bubble inflated home equity which was never actual income. the financial crisis devastated stock portfolios, historically the intended method for middle class families to pay for education and retirement

  • Guest

    What should be obvious from the graph above is that the 33% return-to-aid on tuition is not even sufficient to pay for the tuition of the 0-50,000$ family income group, let alone the 0-$80,000 group (since they compose more than 33% of the student body). The Blue and Gold plan relies greatly on federal (Pell Grant) and state (Cal Grant) aid to pay for tuition (and other expenses) of low income students, and these pools of funding are at risk if the pressure to cut the federal and state budgets continue. In this context it’s not wise for Cal to lose the support of middle-income Californians who constitute the voting majority in the state.

    • Guest

       The  graphic above serves to minimize the dire situation of families in the middle and not eligible for Blue and Gold.  Only 6% of California families make over $120,000 per year. Only 8% of UC students come from families making between $80,000 and $120,000. About half of California families are in this income range.
      This means that of the 23%  of students from families between $50,000 and $99,000 probably 3%/23% come from $80,000 to $99,000 with 20%/23% coming from $50,000 to $80,000. Of the 15% making between $99,000 and $149,000, probably 5%/15% come from families making between $99,000 and $120,000 and 10%/15% from families making between $120,000 and $149,000. The impact on the actual middle income group of $80,000 to $120,000 is much greater than depicted in the graphic and this is before the enormous tuition increases that have increased  UC tuition around 60% since the class  that entered in Fall of 2009 made UC plans in Fall of 2008.

      • Guest

         In the Graphic in this article, 43% of students come from families making over $99,000 per year.
        In the graphic from the UC Office of the President…
        86,000/ 181,000 = 47.5% of students come from families making over $120,000 per year.

    • mic

      They’re going to offset that by admitting more international and out of state students who will pay for a “reduced” Berkeley education. The Middle class of California can take a hike apparently…