UC Berkeley Announces Middle Class Price Break

12/15/2011 03:36 pm ET | Updated Dec 15, 2011

While local support for the Occupy movement has been wavering, it seems the climate it created is starting to take place at one of the group's main targets: colleges.

In November, the Peralta Community College District responded to the Occupy Wall Street movement by voting to move most of the district's $140 million annual budget from Wells Fargo into local banks. And on Wednesday, UC Berkeley announced its own strategy to level the playing field: a price break for middle-class students.

"We've been working on this one for over a year," said UC Berkeley spokesman Dan Mogulof to The Huffington Post. "We saw some early sign of a demographic shift and a fading middle class on campus and knew we needed to take action."

While low-income students qualify for financial aid (according to Mogulof, about 40 percent of UC Berkeley students pay no tuition), many middle-income students do not and have been struggling to meet tuition costs, especially with the budget crisis hikes in recent years. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, one year of school including room, board and books for a student without financial aid is $32,634. In state. So for a middle-class family earning $100,000 a year -- a figure often too high for financial aid eligibility -- more than 36 percent of a family's income would go towards a child's education alone.

But starting next year, middle-class families -- those earning between $80,000 and $140,000 -- will pay no more than 15 percent of their income. As part of the deal, UC Berkeley will pay the difference, save $8,000 to be paid by the student through work or loans.

"It's a three-way partnership," said UC Berkeley Acting Director of Financial Aid Rachelle Feldman. "Parents, students and financial aid all make a contribution towards the cost of attendance. All students receiving financial aid assume some responsibility for paying for their own education, usually through work-study or student loans."

In total, the deal will save families 11 to 61 percent, depending on income. Out-of-state students will get the same price break on the in-state portion of dues but will still be required to pay the $22,878 out-of-state fee.

The new plan will cost the school $10 million to $12 million per year, and UC Berkeley plans to fund it through a combination of private donations and an aggressive push for out-of-state and international students.

"Some will come from philanthropy and some will come from out-of-state tuition," explained Mogulof. "We've spent a great deal of time figuring out how to make this work."

This announcement may come as a surprise, as it comes just six months after the university declared yet another tuition hike, totaling a 20 percent jump in just one year. But according to Mogulof, UC Berkeley saw no other option.

"This isn't some added luxury," he said. "This is who we are. This is a necessary part of our institution."

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