UC Berkeley Chancellor Nicholas Dirks attended the White House’s College Opportunity Day of Action on Thursday, where he and other higher education leaders made a series of commitments to the accessibility of higher education.
The purposes of the event were to check the progress of pledges made in a similar meeting in January and to create new goals, including the creation and expansion of K-16 partnerships to prepare students for college and help college students complete their degree.
UC Berkeley has a series of outreach programs in the West Contra Costa County Unified School District that Dirks pledged to expand. These programs help students prepare for college by encouraging them to pursue higher education, offering help with filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, and providing career-oriented hiring opportunities.
“All of that is terrific, but it isn’t new,” said W. Norton Grubb, a professor emeritus at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Education. “It’s unclear how successful it is, partly because West Contra Costa is one of only how many districts that want to go to Berkeley?”
Dirks additionally pledged to increase the number of students pursuing a college degree.
Berkeley Global Campus, a new research campus that UC Berkeley has been developing at its Richmond Bay location, will host educational and career programs.
Cal Prep, a public charter school founded in partnership with UC Berkeley in 2005, will expand and move the campus to Richmond, California, by the fall of 2015. Cal Prep predominantly enrolls students who will be the first in their family to receive a degree and are from groups typically underrepresented in higher education.
As part of its commitment to Richmond students, UC Berkeley also pledged to work with high schools in Richmond and the surrounding areas to increase FAFSA completion as well as encourage applications to post-secondary institutions.
College Track, a national college-access organization that partners with many campuses, including UC Berkeley, and currently provides services to more than 2,000 users, pledged to increase this number to 3,000 by 2016.
This event is a part of President Barack Obama’s attempt to make higher education more accessible in addition to working to increase the maximum award for Federal Pell Grants and offering flexibility in the No Child Left Behind Act in some states.
According to Grubb, partnerships such as these and executive orders are Obama’s only path toward improving higher education, as Congress has been blocking education-reform legislation.
“Standing up and talking loudly about how something is important (such as this event) sometimes has some effect in getting other people to recognize the problem,” Grubb said. “But I think people understand the problems, so I don’t think that it’s particularly powerful.”