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President Napolitano: Tough choices at UC with good results for Californians

On April 9, President Napolitano published the following op-ed in the Mercury News:


Historical perspective is an important lens through which to view the University of California’s enrollment of out-of-state students. Without it — and lacking an appreciation of the difficult decisions that had to be made during the worst recession since the Great Depression — there is bound to be a huge gap in public understanding.

Over an 18-month period, the state cut UC funding for its core operating budget by one-third, nearly $1 billion. Between 2007 and 2011, tuition doubled. These were what former UC President Mark G. Yudof called “treacherous, treacherous times” that confronted the university with three basic choices:

  • Continue raising tuition
  • Reduce the admission of eligible California students
  • Increase out-of-state enrollment

Cost cutting was also undertaken by UC. After all, public institutions must continually strive to do more with less. UC Berkeley’s administrative costs, for example, are now one-sixth of what similar costs are at Harvard. But cost cutting alone was not enough to close the size of the budget gap caused by state cuts.

Meanwhile, the California State University system, which attracts few out-of-state students, was forced to reduce enrollment and, as Chancellor Tim White recounted recently, “turned away tens of thousands of eligible students.”

In contrast, faced with the available options, the University of California opted for an increase in out-of-state enrollment, enabling UC to:

  • Meet — and even exceed — its Master Plan responsibilities to enroll the top 12.5 percent of high school graduates across the state, offering every qualified applicant a place at UC
  • Maintain academic excellence and retain talented faculty so that our students could experience the same quality of education as previous generations
  • Freeze in-state tuition for six years, beginning in 2011

Now that the state has committed funding for enrollment growth, UC campuses are poised to enroll thousands more Californians than were enrolled last year — 5,000 more by this fall, and an additional 5,000 in the following two years. And this can be accomplished without reducing nonresident enrollment, though it is capped at UC Berkeley, UCLA and UC San Diego next year.

For the fifth straight year, there has been no tuition increase for residents — made possible by nonresident tuition revenue of $800 million this year alone and increased funding from the state. And in-state tuition will remain frozen in 2016-17 as well.

New transfer pathways have made it easier for community college students to secure a UC education, and we expect their numbers to rise to a third of all UC undergraduates. Simultaneously, we have embarked on an initiative to significantly increase student housing.

Graduation rates, already high, continue to improve, as we make progress in efforts to reduce the time it takes to graduate.

The University of California’s efforts to maintain excellence, affordability and social mobility despite the challenges we have faced are clearly demonstrated by various university rankings, including The New York Times College Access Index, which called the University of California an “upward-mobility machine.”

Meanwhile, UC researchers are producing an average of five inventions a day as they make discoveries benefiting the state, nation and world: innovations ranging from an earthquake early warning system and a new form of artificial kidney to a safe, natural insect repellent to protect crops and to new energy-saving technology.

The people of California are proud of their university, and they should be. As we recover from the recession and as state dollars for UC increase (though still not at the level they were in 2008), my time and energy are focused on how we best educate the next generation of Californians while supporting California’s economy and its well-deserved reputation for innovation.

Out-of-state students will continue to contribute to the educational experience our in-state students receive. But our emphasis has been, and always will be, access, affordability and quality of education for our California students.

The decisions of the past were the right decisions. Everyone in state government involved with UC’s budget knew the choices that were made. In that respect, the recent state audit criticizing enrollment of nonresidents says nothing new. But the future of UC is bright, and can be brighter still if, together with state legislators and the governor, we look forward instead of relitigating the past.


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