UC President Janet Napolitano, CSU Chancellor Timothy White discuss future of public higher education

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Nicholas Olivares/Staff

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UC President Janet Napolitano and CSU Chancellor Timothy White convened at the University of Southern California, or USC, Gould School of Law Thursday to discuss the future of public higher education.

Moderated by an editor for The Chronicle of Higher Education, the discussion covered public perception and mistrust of the UC and CSU systems, underrepresented student populations and state funding. The event took place during this year’s three-day Education Writers Association, or EWA, seminar for journalists.

Napolitano and White were asked about their thoughts on the state funding amount allocated to public higher education. While Napolitano said the “financial stresses on the (UC) system are real,” White said California has the “capacity to fund” students pursuing higher education.

“Overall, I’m feeling encouraged (about the budget crisis),” White said at the conference. “The Senate budget committee met yesterday, after which a conference committee will be brought together or the decision will go directly to the governor.”

White noted a “tremendous need” for all degrees — bachelor’s, master’s, doctoral and professional citing a report from the Public Policy Institute of California. Additionally, he stated that Californians in general have underfunded higher education “for too long;” once they “dig deeper” into the CSU and UC systems, however, they see its “enormous value,” according to White.

Napolitano said although she believes that the budget deficit should be of concern to all higher education leaders, public support of higher education is increasingly viewed through a partisan lens, according to a Pew Research Center study finding. She added that state leaders need to be strong advocates for higher education, attributing them a grade of a “B+ for effort,” and a “D for results.”

“Part of this comes from how awfully difficult it is to pierce through all of the white noise that is flooding the country these days,” Napolitano said at the conference. “Cutting through all of it will continue to be the future challenge for Californians.”

Both speakers also emphasized increasing resources for the first-generation students who attend schools in both systems. Napolitano stated that 42 percent of all of UC’s undergraduates are the first to go to college in their families. She added that the UC needs to provide support for these students so that they graduate at the same rate as if they were second-, third- or fourth-generation students.

Napolitano also discussed the role of philanthropic financial contributions in the UC’s financial model.

“We have very generous donors, and if we look at the trajectory of philanthropy in the UC, we see a pretty steep upward curve over the last 10 years or so,” Napolitano said at the conference. “The point of fact is that public funding at the level it was at is unlikely to be restored, and we’re going to need to continue that upward trajectory in terms of philanthropy to support the UC.”

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