Berkeley Connect may soon be defunded due to budget crisis

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Berkeley Connect, an academic mentoring program on campus, could be defunded and eliminated because of budget restrictions.

In the past, the program has been funded through donations made to the campus, according to Michele Rabkin, the associate director of Berkeley Connect. Starting next year, however, because of the campus’s current budget crisis, those funds will no longer be available. Rabkin said Berkeley Connect requires $1 million in funding to be sustained, the majority of which goes to sponsoring fellowships for graduate students working in the program as mentors.  

“There is a great urgency to raise new funds,” Rabkin said. “There isn’t a safety net.”

Catherine Koshland, vice chancellor for undergraduate education, confirmed that the status of Berkeley Connect is under review because of budget constraints.

“The Berkeley Connect Program has been a highly successful mentoring program for undergraduate students,” Koshland said in an emailed statement. “In the current budget situation, its funding was reduced for this academic year although every effort was made to reach as many students as possible.”

Berkeley Connect was originally allotted a budget of $2 million per year in order to fund 10 departments, according to Rabkin. In the 2017-18 school year, Berkeley Connect’s total costs were dropped to about $1.4 million with smaller campus allocation, according to campus spokesperson Dan Mogulof.

“Berkeley Connect found creative ways to run the program, though this did result in fewer fellowships and 200-300 fewer undergraduates able to participate,” Mogulof said in an email.

The program went from serving 1,500 students a semester and taking on 37 full-scholarship graduate fellowships to serving 1,200 students a semester and taking on 29 fellowships, Rabkin said.

Berkeley Connect offers courses taken on a pass/no pass basis and gives students the opportunity to build relationships with other students, professors and alumni in a smaller, personalized setting, according to its website. The program also includes weekly lectures from professors and group discussions about career opportunities and graduate school.

The program has reached over 10,000 students and serves 13 academic departments, according to Maura Nolan, the director of Berkeley Connect. Nolan added that Berkeley Connect is a program that brings people together and deserves a place on campus.

“I’m resolved to fight for the program, because I believe that Berkeley Connect transforms students’ experience of college life, making it not only a better social experience but a better learning endeavor,” Nolan said in an email “I believe that Berkeley Connect is the kind of program that can heal the divisions that exist on our campus.”

In its seven years of existence, the Berkeley Connect program has contributed to students’ academic success. Transfer students in the Berkeley Connect program have a higher average GPA than transfer students out of the program, according to the Berkeley Connect’s 2016-17 progress report.

Berkeley Connect has also united various divisions of the campus to create an enriching experience for students, according to campus English professor C.D. Blanton.

“It has integrated the two resources in which Berkeley is richest: the disciplinary depth and expertise of a research university and the range and diversity of talent of a public university,” Blanton said in an email.

Professors involved in Berkeley Connect, such as former English department chair Samuel Otter, emphasized the importance of the program and called its potential defunding a “significant loss.”

“Berkeley loses the opportunity to be a national leader as a model for large public universities. … It loses the attention that students get at much smaller universities,” Otter said.

Contact Mary Kelly Ford and Ananya Sreekanth at [email protected].