Spring 2014

The Diverse Faces of CED

One of the core missions of the College of Environmental Design is to provide access to an extraordinarily fine university education and college experience, regardless of the financial circumstances of the students we recruit, teach and mentor. Part of this mission is to encourage students from diverse backgrounds to come to CED. At the undergraduate level, for example, we have particularly sought to increase access for students of color, as well as those who come from low income households, are immigrants, or are the first in their families to go to college.

These efforts have been led by Susan Hagstrom, Director of Undergraduate Programs, and Renee Chow, Associate Dean for Undergraduate Programs. Several strategies have been important. They include aggressive recruiting via the CED website, social networking, and visits to high schools and community colleges. Adviser Omar Ramirez serves as Undergraduate Diversity Officer, working with campus on larger student recruitment strategies. And, since peer-to-peer relationships are always persuasive, Susan and her advising team created the CED Admissions Ambassadors Internship Program, that mobilized current CED undergraduates to speak to high school and community college groups, talk to prospective students, and chat with them on the web.

CED students
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The results have been striking: CED is now home to UC Berkeley’s highest percentage of students coming from households of modest means, indicated by their eligibility for Pell Grants, as well as the highest percentage of historically underrepresented minority students and many immigrant and first generation college students. In 2012-13, 48% of CED undergraduates received Pell Grants, 16% above the campus average. Our unique student body creates a rich and vibrant community within the College of Environmental Design. Also enlivening our community are growing numbers of out-of-state and international students.

UC Berkeley’s Blue and Gold Opportunity Program insures that students coming from families with modest household incomes ($80,000 or less), do not pay tuition or fees. But the financial constraints of many CED students present distinct challenges for them: according to UC Berkeley’s Financial Aid Office, in 2014, the average family income of CED Pell Grant recipients was under $25,000. And, because CED offers design-based majors, our students face additional costs. They need an up-to-date computer that can run design and animation software, and are also required to purchase modeling, building and art supplies and to print and plot (in 2 and 3 dimensions) to complete their projects and their degree programs. Architecture majors, for example, spend on average more than $3600 per year (excluding books or computer). This amount constitutes 15% of the average family income of CED students who receive Pell Grants.

New CED Digital Fabrication Lab
New CED Digital Fabrication Lab Enlarge [+]

Thus almost half of our 570 undergraduate students struggle to cover both their living expenses, and the added costs of a CED education. This situation directly impacts their performance in school. As one student wrote to us, “Coupled with costs for model-making materials, each project becomes an extremely expensive endeavor. It not only takes hard work and dedication to thrive in the major, but also the ability to afford printing and material costs.” Sometimes students are forced to make untenable choices; as another student explained: “Due to limited amounts of personal funds, I have had to choose between paying for materials or lab fees, or paying for living expenses. In the past, I have chosen to pay for groceries and rent instead.”

As dean, I am committed to doing my utmost to deploy existing resources, and generate new resources, to insure that no student is compelled to go hungry in order to succeed at CED. So, we have created an Access Fee Waiver Program for Pell Grant recipients. This program offsets a portion of facility access, use and printing fees. While this existing financial waiver program is helpful, we know it is not enough. In an effort led by Assistant Dean for Infrastructure and Information Technology Patty Mead, and our Fabrication Shop Manager Semar Prom, with an Innovation Award from the UC Berkeley Office of Equity & Inclusion, we are also opening a Materials Store. At the Materials Store, students will be able to conveniently purchase a range of course-related materials and supplies, at reasonable prices; some of the proceeds will go to enlarging our Access Fee Waiver Program.

If you would like to contribute to either of these efforts—by providing Access Fee Waivers ($500 each) or supporting the Materials Store—please contact me at Wolch@berkeley.edu.