UC President Janet Napolitano talks past, present and future of UC during keynote address

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SAN FRANCISCO — On the eve of the University of California’s 150th anniversary, UC President Janet Napolitano addressed a range of issues facing the UC, as well as the institution’s past, present and future, in an hourlong speech in San Francisco on Wednesday.

During the speech, Napolitano described her newest responsibility as president: laying out a vision for the UC. In this pursuit, she characterized three steps by which her vision might actualize: extending admission to more community college transfer students, finding ways to “streamline the degree pipeline” and forming a stronger alliance with the state of California.

“Our past accomplishments must spur us to further action,” Napolitano said during the event. “(Our goal is to) help more Californians become a part of the opportunity engine that is the UC system.”

Increasing transfer student admissions was the first focal point of Napolitano’s speech, in which she highlighted transfer students’ contributions to the diversity of experiences on UC campuses. Transfer student success is also measurable beyond campuswide engagement — a decade after graduation, one-half of transfer students rise to the top third of income earners in the state, according to Napolitano.

Napolitano’s second step involves modifying the UC’s current degree pipeline to increase four-year graduation rates and identify degrees that could be completed in three years.

Faster degree completion would reduce costs by moving students in and out of the UC system more quickly, Napolitano said during the event. Her suggested avenues included increasing enrollment during summer sessions, expanding online coursework — which allows students across UC campuses to access otherwise inaccessible coursework — and encouraging study abroad program participation.

Recently, campus administrators have expressed concern with declines in state funding. Napolitano echoed these sentiments, adding that the UC does not have sufficient state support for its students.

State appropriations have not been reflective of growths in student enrollment, according to Napolitano. She added that state contributions to the UC would have to be at $7 billion, not $3.4 billion as it currently stands, to address this inconsistency.

Napolitano also lauded the achievements of the UC in terms of diversity, adding that the the UC is more diverse now than at any other point in its history. According to Napolitano, approximately one-third of student bodies across the UC system include students of a minority background.

“One-third of California-elected officials are UC graduates,” Napolitano said in her speech. “(These include) two California Supreme Court justices.”

After her speech, Napolitano answered questions from audience members, including topics on tuition and affordability, housing and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program protections in the UC.

“A vibrant UC is critical to the state,” Napolitano said during the event. “Every Californian has a stake in the preservation of the UC. Now is the time to invest.”

Contact Nicholas Olivares at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @nicholivares.