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    Berkeley ain't no Bargain

    Nick Sowers Nov 7 '09 15

    I interrupt this flow of dreamy travelogues to report on something I feel is incredibly important. I got back to Berkeley a few days ago for a pit-stop en route to my final destination of the Branner fellowship, the Philippines and Guam. My inbox has been inundated with messages bouncing around from students and administrators alike about a new fee that is slated to begin starting next fall. It's called a Professional Degree Fee or PDF. Already the graduate schools of Law, Business, Public Health and Public Policy have this fee, ranging from about $5000 a year for the two latter and over $25000 per year for the two former. The PDF has been under review for a few years now here at the College of Environmental Design.

    Our new dean, Jennifer Wolch, probably feeling like Barack Obama, is stepping on to a sinking ship. We all know how screwed California is. (A flyer in Wurster Hall reads: California is Broken. Let's fix it.) On October 9th, students received the following memo from Dean Wolch:


    As many of you know, over the past 3 years, the College has been considering the adoption of a Professional Differential Fee (PDF) for professional graduate students. This is something that is being implemented in many professional degree programs across campus, to sustain and enhance the quality of the professional schools' academic programs and services. Our deliberations have included extensive student surveys, discussions with staff, and faculty meetings both within individual departments and college-wide. Because of our collective desire to not only maintain the excellence of our programs and infrastructure, but to enhance the CED educational experience and placement opportunities for professional graduate students, the College has proposed a $6,000 per year PDF to the University of California Office of the President (UCOP). If approved by UCOP, this proposal will come before the UC Regents for their approval, sometime this fall.

    It is important to understand several points related to the PDF. If approved:

    1. The PDF would be assessed for all professional graduate students (MArch; MCP; MLA; MLA-EP; and MUD).
    2. The fee would be imposed beginning in academic year 2010.
    3. Continuing students, who entered prior to Fall 2010, would have their PDF returned to them in the form of student financial aid (but they would continue to pay the equivalent of the Miscellaneous Student Fees as appropriate for use of computer labs, CAD/CAM lab, shop, etc.).
    4. For incoming (new) students, the PDF would replace Miscellaneous Student Fees.
    5. At least 33% of the PDF would be returned to students in the form of financial aid.
    6. Some share of PDF funds would likely be deployed to improve information technology infrastructure and services, provide other instructional support, enhance student career services, and increase participation of students from under-represented groups.
    7. Students would be directly involved in developing plans for the allocation of PDF revenue.

    I am currently meeting with graduate student association leaders to understand their range of concerns, and have scheduled a Town Hall meeting with all CED graduate students. You will receive a notice of this meeting soon. I encourage you all to attend and participate. In turn, I will be happy to share with you more details regarding the PDF, as well as answer your questions on a broad range of additional issues of concern.

    Jennifer Wolch
    Dean, College of Environmental Design


    Various letters expressing the students' concern have been circulated from all departments within the College. The concerns in the Architecture letter can be summarized: 1. Please bring the proposal for the PDF back to our campus and reopen a comment period 2. In order to protect our own and future students’ interests, we want transparency and student governance in every step of instituting the PDF 3. We want to ensure that continuing students are not charged this new fee. And 4. We want the support of the administration in securing new sources of funding.

    There was a Town Hall meeting two days ago which I sat in on. Dean Wolch addressed a few hundred bristled graduate students from architecture, planning, and landscape. She looked a little uneasy up there, and I think that came from having some sympathy ("no one wants to do this") but at the same time knowing that it doesn't matter what we say, the PDF is going to happen. The atmosphere became ludicrous at times, with students announcing things like a survey taken where 90% of students say they don't want to spend $6,000 more per year etc etc. (duh..) And at the end saying "The question is, Dean Wolch, does student opinion matter at all?" At one point Dean Wolch lost her patience as students demanded to see the CED's budget. She basically laughed it off, "It's too complicated." It was a dumb request by the student, but that didn't look so good on Dean Wolch's part. It reveals, though, just how much pressure she is under.

    The biggest fear is lack of student input in future decisions about the PDF--since everyone sitting in that room is promised to be exempt from the PDF, we are actually standing up for students who haven't yet come to the CED. You guys out there who might be reading this, wondering whether or not you should apply to Berkeley--there's a fight under way on your behalf. We don't want fees that can be hiked up on a regular basis (every three years the PDF is under review: it can be taken away, though that has never happened, or increased up to 7%, which you can bet on).


    Recent protests at Sproul Plaza

    Folks, Berkeley is about to get more expensive. A LOT more expensive. One of the greatest selling points of the architecture program has been the "bargain" of an education, which it truly has been. When I began in 2007, tuition for in-state residents was just $4,789 per semester. The fees for next semester, however are rising to $5,616. The spur for the recent campus-wide protests and walk-outs is the fear that the fees will just continue to rise to the point where those who need access to public education might not get it. That's likely to affect students from middle class families the most. What's more important, to maintain access or to maintain the quality of the infrastructure and education? These are really tough decisions to make.

    Add the $6000 PDF and I'm not so sure Berkeley is a bargain anymore. I've always thought "Okay, it's been one hell of a struggle to get the CNC router up and running, but man what a bargain this place is" or "Why can't we get more faculty, or more staff? How about an advisor?… but man, what a bargain my education is." Hell, I won this huge fellowship (that comes from a private endowment). I have absolutely no right to complain. But this isn't about feeling stingy or bitter that a cheap education is about to get more expensive. It's about students lacking control of the cost of our education and decisions happening at the top of the system.

    Hello UCLA? You're facing the same deal. In fact, Dean Wolch said UCLA is looking at an $8,000 PDF. Public education in California is under some severe stress. So don't think you're escaping the blighted economy by coming to school. Shit rolls downhill, and as a student, well, you're pretty much at the bottom. Never mind though, we're still sticking up for you and fighting for some control over just how much shit, and how fast it will roll.

     

     
    • 15 Comments

    • Liebchen
      Nov 7, 09 2:54 pm

      They should like the PDF to expected professional earnings, via the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

      z.g.a.
      Nov 7, 09 4:48 pm

      Thanks for this post. I was going to apply because it did seem like a bargain... Before I decide not to apply, I have a few questions about the program (M.Arch II).

      I've heard that there are the old school teachers, and the new, parametric-based philosophies at the school. How does this work for the student - focused / wide open philosophies? How "critical" are the teachers? Is there more of a support for artistic, expressive architecture, or tectonic, theoretical, material architecture? I've also heard that the students are pretty much on their own, and only meet with teachers after long intervals of working independently. Is this the case, and if so, how does it pan out?



      WonderK
      Nov 7, 09 6:08 pm

      Great post, and great observation. It makes me wonder if people are actually starting to consider cost when they look at graduate schools. I'm thinking about it a lot more now that my grace period is about to end and I have to start paying back those big loans...

      mao_04
      Nov 7, 09 6:16 pm

      Thank you for the post, Nick.
      Guess I might have to reconsider my options.

      will gallowaywill galloway
      Nov 7, 09 6:48 pm

      the real world hits academia. pity.

      understand the reality, but am curious why they collect fees only to hand back a portion to students as financial aid...why not just reduce the fee and NOT have financial aid?

      The suggestion that some money will go to improving things sounds like a plea for clemency and hollow as as a cast-iron corinthian column.


      ah well, guess this is part of education too - money talks. it's the american way!

      Nick SowersNick Sowers
      Nov 8, 09 1:52 am

      Liebchen, excellent point. Someone brought that up at the town hall meeting and the administration still feels convinced that Berkeley is going to be competitive with private schools.

      zqa, I can't really address all of your questions here, but I think you might want to just contact some professors whose work or ideas you're interested in, as your questions are a bit too general. There's certainly divisions but when it comes down to it, it's just about tool preference. In the studios, you get a lot of contact with your professor. Seminars too, though I worry about them getting a little crowded. That doesn't mean the professors are any less enthusiastic or less willing to make themselves available.

      dubK, cost is a big deciding factor for those who come to Berkeley, so this is potentially a big negative for the school.

      mao, good to hear from you man. I think it's still worth 90 bucks to apply. who knows, we might get the $6000 knocked down a little bit. I think they should have made it $5995.

      jump, I know I was thinking the same thing when I first heard about the PDF. It just makes the thing sound untrustworthy doesn't it? Apparently some students will get the entire PDF credited back to them, and some students will pay the full amount.

      Pythagoras
      Nov 8, 09 5:57 am

      nick, thanks for the post. i was about to put in an application for Berkeley...when I stumbled upon your posting!

      I guess at the end of the day, all schools are going to up their tuition fees, in one way or another. As the current situation stands, private schools are already charging exorbitant amounts for their graduate programs!

      To decide if it's worth paying more, i will weigh the costs of the program vs the plus points of getting an MArch from Berkeley.

      mantaray
      Nov 9, 09 11:45 pm

      One thing you note in passing:

      every three years the PDF is under review: it can be taken away, though that has never happened, or increased up to 7%, which you can bet on)

      Thanks for pointing this out -- it's a enormous problem with current higher ed costs and one that many people completely ignore. (For example, those who love to rally the reductive cry "just don't go to an expensive school if you don't want high loans when you get out!")

      Although in this case we would only see an increase of $420, it is symptomatic of a larger & much more expensive problem. Because this kind of potential large increase is a common practice in general higher ed tuition hikes, it means that a student could agree to attend a certain institution after running all the financial calculations in advance and ascertaining that he/she has enough money to pay for it. Then, after already completing 3 years of a program, tuition is suddenly raised 7% from one year to the next. Financial aid packages are commonly not then raised the same amount, suddenly leaving the student with a choice of
      a) ponying up more money than they had planned for for the remaining few years of school, which usually means taking out another loan or
      b) attempting to transfer, which will also end up costing money (in the move, in extra time required to complete the degree, and in the sunk cost of all the courses the student has already completed but that don't transfer)
      c) dropping out due to lack of funds, thereby wasting the previously spent money.

      It's a horrible problem and it happens all the time, and not just with extra "small" costs like this -- private institutions have much more permissive tuition-change rules and in the past few years they have been hiked over and over and over again, from one year to the next, at percentages (that I've seen) of up to 17%! With this kind of out-of-control cost increases, how on earth is a potential student expected to make a reasonable financial decision -- one that is extra important as it is likely to impact the next 20-30 years of his/her life?

      Sorry for the rant, it's a problem that no one ever seems to address, and I was happy to see that you had made note of this.

      mikeAl
      Jan 10, 10 6:35 am

      they add extra "small" costs all the way. In total it's more a hard way for "normal" students like me... Thanks a lot for this post here.
      -- UMTS Flatrate

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      xactly
      Nov 10, 11 9:37 pm

      i went to berkeley for undergrad. try $41,700 at UPENN.

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