Masses of students at UC Berkeley
With the state covering less of its public universities’ costs, UC Berkeley is embarking on its largest fundraising effort ever. Photo: Jef Poskanzer
With the state covering less of its public universities’ costs, UC Berkeley is embarking on its largest fundraising effort ever. Photo: Jef Poskanzer

UC Berkeley has announced one of the largest fundraising campaigns in U.S. higher education history, with the university aiming to attract $6 billion by the end of 2023.

The money will go to faculty positions, scholarships, student housing, research and more, according to a Berkeley News release.

Called “Light the Way,” the campaign has already raised more than half its goal since its “quiet” launch in 2014, the university said.

In the campus release, Chancellor Carol Christ said California’s public universities have been on the hook for more and more “basic” expenses, whereas the state used to cover much larger portions of the schools’ costs.

“Now, however, we are raising funds for our core needs and activities … for the heart and soul of the university and all that sets Berkeley apart from the crowd,” Christ said.

The fundraising campaign comes as the university has grown its undergraduate student body by 14% over five years — per a UC Regents directive — while actually shrinking its faculty, according to Cal. (The city of Berkeley has sued the university over the impacts of the enrollment hike.) Meanwhile students and staff both struggle to afford housing in the pricey Berkeley area.

“The campaign seeks to add 100 new tenure-track faculty members and the resources they need to conduct critical research alongside students,” said the Berkeley News release.

The funds will also go to scholarships and research programs for undergraduates. Thirty percent of freshmen and 55% of transfer students are considered low-income, according to Cal, and around two-thirds of all students receive financial aid. However, less than 20% of students receive scholarships.

“Undergraduate scholarships must keep pace with increased costs and are the only component of our financial aid program that the campus community can directly impact. Scholarships make a world-class education a reality for thousands of Berkeley students each year,” said Cruz Grimaldo, Financial Aid and Scholarships Office director, in the news release.

Christ also sees the campaign as a means of reaching her long-stated goal of doubling the number of campus beds available for undergraduates in a decade. Currently, “the campus is able to provide just 27% of its students with a spot in its residence halls,” the release said. That’s the lowest portion of any UC campus, and in a region experiencing a housing crisis.

Shortly after taking up her post, the chancellor unveiled a list of locations where she planned to build more student housing — including controversial sites like People’s Park.

“I am thrilled that we are now on the way to providing students with more housing, scholarships and modern academic facilities, even as we expand the ranks of faculty and develop new learning and experiential opportunities,” she said.

The fundraised dollars will also support 300 new graduate fellowships, according to Cal.

The campus announcement comes a few days after UC Santa Cruz fired 54 of its graduate student workers, who were striking to demand higher stipends in order to afford their high costs of living. While the UCSC students were on a “wildcat strike,” not endorsed by the union, the statewide UC graduate union is demanding cost-of-living-adjustment increases across the whole system, where they say student workers (teaching and research assistants) regularly spend more than half of their stipends on rent. Berkeley graduate students held a rally Friday in support of the UCSC students and to demand pay hikes on all campuses.

UC Berkeley has already made significant progress in reaching its $6 billion goal, according to Cal, in part thanks to two major gifts to academic programs.

A $250 million anonymous donation to the university’s Division of Computing, Data Science and Society was the largest UC Berkeley has ever received. It will fund a new facility for the study of privacy issues, artificial intelligence and machine learning. A separate $50 million gift from the former dean of the College of Natural Resources, Gordon Rausser, will go toward climate and energy research.

Natalie Orenstein reports on housing and homelessness for The Oaklandside. Natalie was a Berkeleyside staff reporter from early 2017 to May 2020. She had previously contributed to the site since 2012,...