UC Berkeley ranked ninth in the nation on the New York Times’ College Access Index published last Thursday. The ranking places colleges “based on their commitment to economic diversity” and lists the “top colleges doing the most for the American dream.”
The ranking is based on a university’s enrollment of lower- and middle-income students, and the net price for the students to attend these universities, according to the description.
In a column attached to the ranking, however, columnist David Leonhardt argues that reduced state spending on higher education in recent years has hurt public universities’ role in helping students achieve the American dream. The decline of economic diversity at top public colleges exemplifies this pattern, as shown in the most recent New York Times College Access Index, Leonhardt wrote.
“At the public colleges in the index, the average share of last year’s freshman class receiving Pell grants — which means they typically come from the bottom half of the income distribution — fell to 21.8 percent, from 24.3 percent in 2011-12,” Leonhardt wrote in his column. “Some of the biggest declines have been in the University of California system, which has long been the most economically diverse place in elite higher education.”
UC Student Association treasurer and UCLA graduate student Parshan Khosravi said in a Facebook message that the current political climate endangers the ability of public universities to promote social mobility.
In an emailed statement, outgoing Chancellor Nicholas Dirks said access and inclusion for students from low-income families is an “inseparable part” of UC Berkeley’s public mission. He added that more students could benefit from UC Berkeley’s “rare combination of access and excellence” if state funding returned to its previous levels.
“We take great pride in the fact that Berkeley is the only university to make the top ten in the Times’ College Access Index, as well as the top ten in virtually every global university ranking that assesses academic excellence,” Dirks said in his statement.
Aashna Bhatia, a former out-of-state UC Berkeley student, was set to graduate this spring before she medically withdrew last semester. She said her access to campus is hindered by high tuition costs.
“Cutting aid not only causes people like me (to be) unable to come to this school, but it also really deteriorates the quality of this school, making it not accessible at all,” Bhatia said.
Bhatia hopes people put pressure on the UC Regents to change their tuition hike policy. She also added that the “stagnated, bureaucratic paperwork process” makes it difficult for students to receive financial aid on time.
“I think that higher education needs to take a closer look at access and what they say that they’re giving access (to) on paper,” Bhatia said.