Cal students start classes on Thursday. Incoming Chancellor Dirks said Monday the university is prospering. Photo: John Morgan

With students already coming to campus to begin their classes Thursday for the 2013-14 academic year, UC Berkeley officials summed up a range of successes and plans during a special media presentation Monday afternoon.

Initiatives underway include efforts to make it easier for students to access their online information via a one-stop website, programs to make the UC Berkeley experience more intellectually enriching, and a growing number of courses that include a public service component that’s designed to help students become global citizens.

“What we are trying to do as a campus is say that every student is important to us,” said Harry Le Grande, vice chancellor for student affairs. “We’re working hard so each student can have a great ‘total student experience’ inside and outside the classroom.”

Financial aid, and particularly the university’s commitment to making the Cal education more accessible to both low- and middle-income families was also a point of pride, officials said. This year, underrepresented and non-traditional students received $800,000 in financial aid.

The university is also working to ensure that students have a range of support services and more meaningful connections to faculty, training more student advisors and empowering more people on campus to identify the signs of emotional distress or other struggles.

The incoming class includes 5,800 new freshman, 2,600 new transfer students and 3,000 new graduate students, according to data made available Monday. Women make up 53% of the incoming class, and underrepresented minorities make up 18%.

25% of freshman students first in family to attend a 4-year college

Twenty-five percent of students in the freshman class are the first in their family to attend a four-year college, and 81% came from public high schools. For 58%, English is not their first language. Twenty-two percent come from households with incomes below $45,000.

Twenty-four percent of the class hails from Bay Area counties, with another 16% from the Los Angeles area. Thirty percent come from outside the state, including 14% who have come to Berkeley from another country.

John Wilton, vice chancellor for administration and finance, said that, despite challenging economic times in recent years, Cal is “actually thriving and beginning to grow.”

Looking at factors like the number of degrees awarded, freshman graduation rates, undergraduate satisfaction levels and debt levels, “Berkeley not only continues to be one of the best performers in the nation,” he said, “but has improved in all of these areas over the past five years.”

He said Cal would need to continue to be “vigilant” in terms of administrative efficiency, to keep operating costs low so that as many resources as possible can go toward research, teaching and other school programs.

Dirks: at first not sure if coming to Cal was a good move

Incoming Chancellor Nicholas Dirks, who assumed office June 1, described the beginning of the school year as a “very special moment” for him. When he first learned of the job opening, he said he “wasn’t sure if this was a good move for anyone given the kind of turmoil that had taken place in California,” particularly since 2008.

“I was extremely gratified first of all to learn… that this university was not just alive and well, but that it was in fact prospering,” he said. Dirks said he appreciated the public support resulting from the approval of Proposition 30, which sends more public dollars to support public education and has helped stabilize the university’s funding stream.

“It’s a great mandate, and a wonderful way for me to begin,” he said. “It has raised a set of expectations across campus, and given us all a sense of a new beginning. And that is part of the energy that I feel this late August season as everyone is coming back or coming to campus for the first time.”

Read more about Cal’s on-going programs and initiatives in a presentation made available Monday to members of the media.

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Emilie Raguso (former senior editor, news) joined Berkeleyside in 2012 and covered politics, public safety and development until her departure in 2022. In 2017, Emilie was named Journalist of the Year...