As the chief academic officer of UC Davis, I read with interest the recent Aggie editorial “UC Davis good for low-income students, but challenges remain” (9.24.15). I appreciate its acknowledgment that recent articles in the New York Times called the UC system “The California-Upward Mobility Machine” and ranked UC Davis second in its list of “Top Colleges Doing the Most for Low-Income Students.” These accolades reflect the seriousness with which we take our responsibility to serve all Californians.
At the same time, one cannot argue against the claim in the editorial’s title that, however great our successes in making UC Davis accessible and affordable, “challenges remain.” The financial challenges of pursuing a UC Davis education are still too great for too many of our prospective and continuing students. Even as we celebrate accomplishments in student accessibility and affordability, we recognize them as steps in a longer journey.
In addressing the challenges that remain in this longer journey, the Aggie article raised concerns about the admission of an increasing number of national and international students and the impacts that this might have on California students. Chancellor Katehi and I firmly believe that the 2020 Initiative, which foresees the percentage of national and international students rising ultimately to about 20 percent of our student body, greatly benefits all of us in two critical ways: it increases the range of perspectives represented in our classrooms and everywhere else on our campus, and it augments the resources available to support our mission of teaching, research and public service in an era of significantly decreased state support for the university.
Setting us apart from some of our sister campuses, our 2020 Initiative aims to increase by 500 the number of California students on our campus, as measured against our baseline year of 2011–12. We remain steadfastly committed to that goal, though the exact number of California admits can be expected to vary somewhat from year to year. Likewise, we remain committed to increasing the diversity of our student body, along multiple parameters. We continue to show significant gains in diversity even as we strive to make greater progress.
The editorial also expresses a concern that our “poorest students suffer the brunt of tuition hikes more than anyone else.” While this sounds like it must be true, the reality is rather different. Under the Blue and Gold Opportunity plan, the entirety of base tuition and fees for this group of students is covered by gift aid. Incidentally, more than half of UC Davis’ California resident undergraduates receive enough gift aid to cover base tuition completely.
Granted, other costs of attendance are not always fully covered, and poorer students may be disproportionately discouraged by “sticker shock” even from applying to our campus, so we certainly have more work to do in this area — especially in making sure everyone understands how financial aid works at UC Davis. But tuition itself should not be the issue for our less advantaged students.
In closing, let me thank the Aggie for drawing attention to both important successes and challenges regarding accessibility and affordability at UC Davis, and for making a thoughtful contribution to our community’s larger discussion of the topic. I hope this response will further our joint conversation of this issue during the coming year.
Ralph J. Hexter is the Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor of UC Davis.