International students at UC Berkeley: A hidden struggle

Olivia Staser/Staff

Like many other students around the world, I dreamed of studying at one of the world’s most prestigious and renowned universities — UC Berkeley.

When students see the enormous financial burden their families will carry for four years, that dream quickly turns into thin air. With living and university expenses counted, an incoming international student would have to pay approximately $64,029 every single year in tuition, fees and personal expenses, with extremely slim opportunities for financial aid. Even students from China, which has the highest number of international students on campus, have struggles affording the expenses of higher education. To be able to afford the total cost of attendance for UC Berkeley, students need to have 10 times more than the average disposable income. This cost means that talented medium- and low-income students from all around the globe might not even contemplate applying.

Not every international student fits the stereotypical image portrayed on the social media meme page. For example, not every international student flies first class. Not every international student is able to visit home, but when they find the resources to visit their family, they sometimes have three or more layovers to get the lowest price. Having to pay $60,000 every year, families are forced to spend their entire life savings or put their houses on a first and sometimes a second mortgage to finance their child’s world-leading education.

On top of extremely high tuition, UC Berkeley’s international student body faces other financial barriers. If students want to participate in an internship in the United States during the summer, known as Curricular Practical Training, they must enroll in a certain number of units determined by their adviser. Hypothetically, if a program required 2 units, that would cost nearly $842 in units fees on top of $337 in campus fees, totaling $1,179. Also, Chancellor Carol Christ recently approved a fee increase of $56 applied only to international students to go toward the Berkeley International Office.

This has sent a negative message to the UC system’s international student body as well as to any potential international applicants. While lowering in-state tuition by $60 in July, in March the UC increased it by $978 for non-California residents. With no additional financial aid provided, the international and out-of-state student body carry a greater burden on their families and in their futures.

I remember when I was asked why I wanted to move to the U.S. for a peace-building program in Washington, D.C. My answer was simple I viewed the United States as a country of leading innovators. I admired its history of empowering differences and fighting for diversity. I firmly believed that was its forte. Now that I attend UC Berkeley, I see it in the same light. The campus has strived to act as a melting pot of ideas from people of various nationalities within California. International students who have lived their whole lives outside of the United States bring an international experience to Berkeley, thus enriching the entire student body experience. If the campus wants to continue this legacy, it must expand its reach outside of California and the United States.

If Berkeley wants to uphold its legacy for diversity, it must increase its fight for international students. On July 18, the chancellor suggested that the UC Board of Regents introduce state financial aid for the University of California’s international student body. Such a proposal would be ideal. But it would not necessarily be fair, given that international and out-of-state students don’t contribute to the California budget before they arrive on campus for the first time. A more resourceful option would be to introduce a return-to-tuition scheme, whereby 2-3 percent of the the international student tuition which would equal about $5 million would go toward a fund that would provide need-based support. The current fund for international students is only short-term, and the Berkeley International Office cannot afford to support a student throughout their studies. Increasing the fund to $5 million with this proposed policy would be a bold move for the support of the campus’s international community.

The decision seems to be up to the chancellor. If she would support such a move, I believe she would be making a landmark decision in UC Berkeley’s stance toward its international community.

Andy Theocharous is an ASUC senator at UC Berkeley.