President Napolitano proposes tuition freeze, new systemwide initiatives

University of California President Janet Napolitano today (Nov. 13) proposed an undergraduate tuition freeze, for the third consecutive year, and said she would pursue a policy to avoid pricing uncertainty. She also pledged immediate action to increase transfers to UC from California community colleges, speed technology transfer to benefit both the university and researchers, and make the University of California a zero net energy user by 2025.

In her first remarks to the UC Board of Regents since assuming the presidency on Sept. 30, Napolitano said her deep immersion in the "ways and wonders of the University of California" over the past weeks have led her to undertake new initiatives "offered in the spirit of the constant pursuit for better pathways forward, for new mountains to climb."

To allow time to explore what she called a new UC tuition policy, Napolitano said systemwide tuition and fees for California undergraduates would remain at the current level for the 2014-15 academic year.

"Tuition goes right to the heart of accessibility and affordability — two of the university's guiding stars," Napolitano said. "We need to figure out, in the real world in which we live, how to bring clarity to, and reduce volatility in, the tuition-setting process. It's time for the university to collaboratively come up with another way."

She said the tuition increases of the past several years were the result of the recession and the loss of state funding. "And this board, my predecessor and the chancellors, by all accounts, did a masterful job of navigating what was a hellacious storm," she said. "Now the seas have calmed, and so the time is right to take a new, deep look at tuition policy."

Napolitano also challenged the state of California to do its part, noting that UC needed additional funding for enrollment growth and the university's retirement program. "Any successful new tuition policy will require a clear partnership with the state," she said, adding that UC will continue to reduce costs and pursue alternative revenues.

On another initiative, the president said she has asked Provost Aimée Dorr to form an action team to both raise the number of students who transfer to UC from community colleges and improve their success at the university.

"I expect the team to bring a set of recommendations before the board in March," Napolitano said. "These might include outreach and advising to community colleges with low transfer rates or a high percentage of low-income students. They might include ways to streamline the transfer process. They might include expanding programs like Summer Bridge to give entering transfers a better shot at starting off strong."

On the issue of research and technology transfer, Napolitano said, "We need to speed the translation of ideas that are developed by UC faculty, researchers and students into products and services that can help benefit all of society."

"This means streamlining our existing processes," she said. "It means removing the barriers that can slow the pace of tech transfer. And it means thinking about how we can invest in all elements of technology commercialization: patents, proof-of-concept and early-stage investment in UC startups — everything that can help move our research into the market and into the world."

Napolitano said she has asked Chief Financial Officer Peter Taylor, Vice President for Research and Graduate Studies Steve Beckwith and their teams to draw up a "battle plan" by early spring.

Finally, the president announced the goal of making the University of California a zero net energy consumer by 2025, what she conceded was a "steep mountain," but one which UC was prepared to conquer.

"The good news is that research universities like UC are in the business of breaking through barriers," she said. "That's why we call them breakthroughs. It is the essence of what research universities do."

"Everything I have done and everything I have outlined today is meant to support this mission that is our most shining characteristic: education that is rooted in California, and research and innovation that fundamentally changes how the world works," Napolitano said. "If we get tuition right, if we get access for transfers right, if we invest in our own research and change the game on energy consumption, then UC will demonstrate to the nation, and beyond, the fundamental and unique value of a world-class public research university."