Nonresident students matter, not just for their tuition

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UC Berkeley’s campus diversity is under tremendous threat and we must take immediate action against the upcoming nonresident student cap. 

In the last UC Board of Regents meeting, the board discussed the university’s operating budget for the coming year, including the concerning intent of the state legislature to cap the enrollment of nonresident students at 18% at all UC campuses. The goal is to limit the proportion of nonresident students in every incoming freshmen class to 10% by the 2029-30 academic year. 

Nonresident student supplemental tuition, or NRST, constitutes an indispensable pillar of the university’s financial health. In fact, NRST is one of the major funding sources for UC Berkeley’s instructional expenditures and financial aid programs. The proposed policy would incur approximately a $3.3 billion loss in NRST revenue, with a promise to increase state funding for the UC system.

However, shifting away from NRST, which the university has more control over, to greater reliance on state funding will inevitably make the university more vulnerable in the face of economic downturns. State funding is inherently volatile and has been dramatically declining from 50% of the overall budget to 14% since the 1990s. Despite state legislators’ promise for additional funds, how can we hold them accountable for providing consistent and sufficient financial support, even during a recession? 

The financial case for enrolling nonresident students is an obvious one, but the case for upholding UC Berkeley’s mission of intellectual diversity is even more crucial. Nonresident students are full participants in UC Berkeley’s campus life who contribute to our intellectual diversity in unique ways.

Intellectual diversity is integral to promoting true acceptance and inclusion. A steady rise in polarization is visible in our modern world: People tend to focus on information sources that already align with their personal views in search of self-validation. As people are confined in these “echo chambers” of beliefs and opinions, we are more likely to exhibit animosity toward those with opposing views. Institutions such as UC Berkeley are supposed to help students step out of these “echo chambers” and broaden their worldviews. We can only achieve so with a diverse student body expressing different beliefs. Otherwise, UC Berkeley will inevitably fail to educate the next generation of leaders who must understand the complexities of controversial global challenges and embrace cultural differences. 

Is this what we want for our students? To be parochial in thoughts and reluctant to mutual understandings? 

Cultural diversity, global horizons and multifaceted perspectives embraced by out-of-state and international students have always gone hand in hand with the mission and values of UC Berkeley. These students help bridge the gap between different cultures, languages and perspectives, enabling us to see the world through a global lens and make connections with peers worldwide. It is time for us to ponder how many diverse voices and invaluable friendships will be lost as a result of this cap. 

Lorraine, whom I work with at ASUC senator Chen’s office, met one of her best friends at UC Berkeley. Her friend came to Berkeley from Guam and invited her over for Christmas. “Had I not attended Berkeley, I wouldn’t have known anything about Guam, let alone going there sometime and making a lifelong friend,” Lorraine said. And if Lorraine wasn’t admitted to UC Berkeley as an international student, many of her friends may have never gotten to know a peer from China. The diversity at UC Berkeley allows students to explore different cultures and broaden their horizons. Reducing the number of nonresident students enrolled means that future students will be far less likely to have these invaluable experiences and connections. 

Moreover, nonresident students not only bring us friendships but also make significant contributions to California after graduation. More than 50% of domestic nonresident alumni remain in California, contributing their extraordinary talents back to the community. They are presently more likely to get employed in high-tech and business industries than Californians, creating thousands of job opportunities in local communities and helping the underprivileged.

The debate on nonresident enrollment, however, should never be a zero-sum game. Proponents of nonresident cap often present the situation as an “either-or” scenario, in which nonresident students “take up” Californians’ spots, but this could not be further from the truth. In fact, the number of California residents accepted at UC Berkeley has increased every year in the past three years, confirming that the presence of nonresident students does not bar the rising number of resident students admitted. 

It is disheartening to see the struggles our nonresident students are going through. Everyone on this campus, no matter where they are from, should understand that the diversity and inclusivity we so cherish have always been under constant challenge. We need to take actions to show that these values are important to us by speaking up for our nonresident peers who lack representation at the state level. We must protect their place as indispensable members of our community so that we can continue to learn from the unique perspectives they bring to our campus.

Sophie Xue is an associate of ASUC senator Amy Chen, who represents international communities. Contact the opinion desk at [email protected] or follow us on Twitter @dailycalopinion.