If you enrolled in the University of California at Berkeley this fall, and you weren’t a California resident, you paid more than you would have if you had gone to Harvard.

That’s not a joke, or a misprint. Berkeley, a public university, now charges its out-of-state attendees more than Harvard does. Choose Harvard instead of Berkeley, and you’ll save enough to buy a top-of-the-line iPad. With a data plan.

“But that’s just out-of-state students!” I hear you cry. “The University of California is a state university, serving the people of the state of California! Out-of-state students should pay more!”

Well, yeah. Fair enough. But in-state tuition at Berkeley is now brushing up against fifteen grand, and even at that price it’s available to fewer and fewer Californians every year. Why? Because those higher-than-Harvard fees are really hard to pass up.

Berkeley’s out-of-state enrollment historically hovered around ten percent. But it rose to 15% two years ago as the current financial crisis hit, then jumped to 23% last year. For the fall of 2011, it skyrocketed to 29.8%. Even with increased enrollment overall, that translates to a loss of more than one thousand places for California residents in just two years.

Education activists talk about “privatization” of higher education a lot, and there’s a danger of that word losing its meaning through repetition. But here it is — privatization in action in the most concrete way. First Berkeley raises its out-of-state pricing to private university levels, and then it starts jacking up out-of-school enrollments to squeeze the most revenue out of its new policy. The public university withers, replaced by something very very different.

And this process is just getting underway. It’s going to get far worse before it gets better.

Update | An eagle-eyed commenter noticed that the webpage I used as my original source for Harvard’s rates omitted two apparently mandatory fees. Once those are taken into account, Harvard’s tuition costs remain slightly higher than Berkeley’s, for now at least. Once you factor in room and board, however, Berkeley takes the lead again — and by a slightly wider margin than I reported in the original version of this post. Full details in comments.