Napolitano proposes undergraduate tuition freeze for next year at UC Regents meeting

Her other initiatives include improving research productivity, transfer rates and energy efficiency

Michelle Abiera/File
Napolitano addresses the UC Board of Regents, introducing a proposed freeze in undergraduate tuition for the 2014-15 school year as well as initiatives to increase transfer rates from community colleges to the UC system and reach complete energy efficiency systemwide by 2025.

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SAN FRANCISCO — UC President Janet Napolitano proposed a freeze in undergraduate tuition for the 2014-15 school year in a public address before the UC Board of Regents on Wednesday as part of a larger plan to develop a more sustainable long-term tuition model for the university.

Napolitano made the pledge in her first address to the UC Regents since taking office in late September. If her plans reach fruition, this will be the the third consecutive year without a tuition hike for undergraduates in the UC system. The regents will discuss this proposed tuition freeze Thursday during their review of the preliminary 2014-15 budget. Annual undergraduate tuition systemwide is currently $12,192.

“I want tuition to be as low as possible, and I want it to be as predictable as possible,” Napolitano said. “I know we can create the clear, predictable tuition policy our students and their families need and deserve.”

Despite pledging to explore alternative sources of funding such as philanthropy and public-private partnerships, Napolitano said the university cannot achieve a stable tuition model through these means alone. She asked the state to increase its financial support to the UC system by providing additional funding for enrollment growth and the university’s retirement program. The proposed UC budget, which the regents will discuss Thursday, reflects this request and asks the state for an additional $120.9 million in state support.

Nathan Brostrom, UC executive vice president for business operations, said that although he is hopeful the state will provide additional support for the university, tuition may be subject to increases if the state fails to provide the extra funding. He noted the importance of developing the sustainable tuition model Napolitano advocated, recalling extreme volatility in tuition in recent years.

“Depending on when a student arrived at UC, their tuition could’ve declined or doubled in their time at the university,” Brostrom said. “And that’s not fair.”

John Douglass, a research fellow with the UC Berkeley Center for Studies in Higher Education, said stable tuition relies on dependable state funding.

“By the next academic year or before, I sense a question will be placed before lawmakers: will UC retain the goal of low tuition or remain on the road to a relatively high tuition and high financial aid model?” he said in an email. “UC can achieve the objective of creating predictable tuition policies — which research indicates is a big variable for expanding access to disadvantaged students — only if the state becomes a predictable partner in funding public higher education.”

Napolitano said in a press conference that she hopes the tuition freeze proposal and other initiatives will allow some who have protested her appointment to gain a fuller picture of her goals for the university.

More than 60 students and activists gathered at the meeting Tuesdayto oppose her appointment, claiming her role in deporting undocumented students as U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security and her lack of experience in academia make her unfit to serve as president.

“Some of the protests were based on not knowing me; they were based on a paper representation of me that wasn’t complete,” Napolitano said, adding that she hopes her actions will dictate student opinion of her.

Aside from tuition, she introduced plans to enhance the university’s research productivity and increase transfer rates from California community colleges to the UC system. She suggested greater outreach to community colleges with low transfer rates and large numbers of low-income students, and she said her staff will make more extensive recommendations at the March regents meeting.

Some 70.8 percent of California community college students who applied for UC admission were admitted for fall 2013. About 22 percent of undergraduates enrolled at UC Berkeley this fall are transfer students, according to Fabrizio Mejia, the executive director of the UC Berkeley Transfer,

Re-entry and Student Parent Center. He said the university needs to focus on retaining transfer students and providing them the support they need once they arrive at the university.

“I’m all for the outreach and transition, but I think we need to invest money in ensuring that students successfully complete their degrees,” Mejia said. “I want to make sure the plan follows through from A to Z. It’s great to get more students in, but that could create retention issues. If you want to maximize the potential of transfer students, you need more robust transfer centers.”

Napolitano’s fourth initiative called on the university to reach complete energy efficiency by 2025, a goal she called a “steep mountain” that could be reached by tapping into the university’s research resources.

That goal would require the UC system to increase energy efficiency and pursue clean energy, according to Lisa McNeilly, UC Berkeley’s director of sustainability.

“The UC system has been a leader for many years on sustainability and climate, and this just takes us to this next step,” McNeilly said. “We look forward to the challenge.”

Brostrom said that zero net energy consumption will not only make the UC system more environmentally friendly but that it will also afford the system greater financial certainty and control of its energy spending.

These initiatives come after Napolitano’s announcement of a $15 million allocation of one-time funds to increase support for undocumented students, postdoctoral fellows and graduate students at university. She has also ordered an efficiency review of the UC Office of the President that will assess ways her office can cut costs.

Libby Rainey is the lead higher education reporter. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @rainey_l.