Some rare good news from Califonia

The San Francisco Chronicle reports today on a $16 million gift to UC Berkeley from the Evelyn and Walter Haas, Jr. Fund.

The gift will fund five new endowed chairs and a variety of research and public service programs designed to enhance Cal’s historical commitment of openness to all. Haas Jr. Fund President Ira Hirschfield has posted a deeply thoughtful open letter that explains the motivation for and history behind the gift.

Hirschfield’s letter refers to Cal’s admissions process several times and he says the gift also “includes a challenge grant for endowed scholarships for low-income students….”

Oddly the Chronicle story includes these two seemingly contradictory paragraphs:

Although the newly announced program does not address student admissions, [Berkeley Chancellor] Birgenau said, it is designed to make UC Berkeley’s environment “more inclusive” and therefore make the university “progressively more attractive to people from diverse backgrounds.”

The funding also includes $1.5 million for scholarships for transferring community college students.’

Scholarships for low-income, community college students (largely overlapping sets) certainly have a huge impact on their ability to attend if admitted.

When I worked at Berkeley’s Haas School of Business (1985-1997), about half the students in the undergraduate business program were community college transfers. As I recall, juniors entering the program from Berkeley had to have a GPA of 3.6 or higher – and most of those coming from the junior colleges had 4.0’s. A brighter, harder working, more motivated group of students would be hard to find anywhere.

The ongoing dysfunction of California’s budget and politics has hit public higher education hard at every level. Tuition and fee increases have made it impossible for many qualified students to attend community colleges, state universities and UC System schools. It’s good to see private institutions working to maintain the promise of Clark Kerr’s inspirational master plan to make public higher ed in California affordable to all.

Total support for the initiative will rise to some $31 million with matching funds. The Hewlett Foundation is also on board.

Late update: UC Berkeley’s news release is here.

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