New UC efforts aid diversity

Recent reports have revealed that the University of California schools are making a more conscientious and successful effort at recruiting students from all backgrounds and income levels.

In the wake of the recession, the UC system has been increasingly criticized for lacking a true representation of all of California’s socioeconomic classes. More specifically, it’s been scrutinized for its increasing inability to provide adequate education to students in lower income brackets.

Fortunately, that’s a scrutiny the system can withstand. Recent changes effected in the UC financial aid system are allowing a broader range of students to enroll than ever before. The UC schools should be lauded for their efforts, especially given the current economy.

A Los Angeles Times article reported Oct. 2 that undergraduate fees for in-state students are $2,500 higher than last year.

These price tags are hefty regardless of a family’s net income. But particularly for students who come from more modest backgrounds, the large sums can be discouraging, and often a deterrent from even applying to one of the UC schools.

So when statistics were published that the UC schools were in fact doing a better job of providing financial aid to their prospective attendees, the dissenters were silent.

The Associated Press reported on Oct. 1 that “an estimated 39 percent of all UC undergraduates enrolled for fall 2010 receive Federal Pell Grants, which are generally awarded to students with family incomes below $50,000.”

This is a substantial improvement from the 31 percent reported two years earlier. It is also the most amount of aid that the UCs have offered in their history.

Furthermore, UC President Mark Yudof hopes to raise the income ceiling of the Blue + Gold Opportunity Plan — a financial aid program providing coverage of all fees for students coming from families earning less than $70,000 — which would ultimately extend this package to those who earn more but still find themselves unable to finance a college degree.

Washington Monthly Magazine recently released a statement ranking UC San Diego first, UC Berkeley second and UCLA third for top universities.

This was particularly notable given the parameters of assessment, which unlike most other college rankings focused solely on the public good. Schools were evaluated based on their success in providing “social mobility (recruiting and graduating low-income students), research (producing cutting-edge scholarship and PhDs), and service (encouraging students to give something back to their country).”

Although the overwhelming public sentiment surrounding these changes has been one of emphatic praise and optimism for the future, there has still been a significant amount of criticism.

In response to a Los Angeles Times article, one angry comment captured the sentiments of the border-conscious, worrying that these new policies are effectively turning UC schools into “welfare universities,” illegal residents will  benefit unfairly.

These benefits are seen by some as threatening the quality of education that would ultimately be provided to native-born, legal residents.

Because the adjustments have been made so recently, however, there has been no conclusive research indicating whether that is in fact the case; it is more likely an exaggerated complaint from someone on the far right.

On the other hand, some argue that increasing the accessibility of college to lower-income households might jeopardize the prospects of middle- and upper-class students hoping to get into their UC school of choice, because the applicant pool will likely increase in response to these reforms.

Though these are undoubtedly necessary and fair improvements to the financial aid system, the perceived threat to more affluent individuals is starting to be felt. The Los Angeles Times reported the overall percentage of students from $99,000-plus per year families has dropped three percent from 29 to 26 percent.

Ultimately, this is still promising news. Education should be accessible to all who aspire and work hard enough toward it.

As California public schools continue to flounder, this increase in UC financial aid is emphatically welcomed, especially as it now makes college a realistic and plausible possibility where it once was not.

Prior to the recession, the UC system was seen as a prime example of exemplary public college education. Indeed, as a non-Californian, I lusted after these schools myself.

California is often looked to as a frontier for education, and these changes in the financial aid system are a much-needed step in the right direction.

Deepa Ramprasad is a sophomore majoring in public relations.