Janet Napolitano says her role at the University of California is kind of like being a CEO.
“As an outsider coming in, the breadth and depth of the University of California is almost impossible to comprehend until you’re sitting in a chair like mine,” she says.
It’s a job that requires overseeing hard choices - like the decision by the regents to admit a record number of out-of-state students this year.
“The state of California has not increased funding for enrollment growth at the University of California for six or seven years now. It just hasn’t,” Napolitano says. “So the result is we’re carrying and have enrolled about 6,000 California students that we don’t receive state funding for and we have to pay for that.”
Out-of-state and international students pay more in tuition and help make up the difference.
Californians are not losing spots to out-of-state students. Even so, Napolitano believes it’s time to re-examine out-of-state enrollment.
“We don’t actually have a policy, we don’t have a cap, we don’t have anything like that,” she says. “It’s become such a sensitive issue and important issue that I think we need some rules of the road moving forward.”
Another sensitive issue - the ban on affirmative action put in place by voters in 1996. It resulted in admissions dropping for African American and Latinos at top-tier campuses, like UC Berkeley and UCLA. Napolitano pledged this year to increase enrollment for low-income and underrepresented students but she says the university cannot consider race or ethnicity.
“We educate, for example, half of the physicians in California. They’ve got to come out of the University of California,” she says. “And yet with the ban of not being able to take any type of race or ethnicity into account, we find it very difficult to maintain as diverse a student body there as we would like. That’s a concern.”
As for the high cost of going to college, Napolitano says it’s not as expensive as many people think. “This is where we get to what I call ‘the myth of the sticker price,’” she says.
Napolitano says most UC students graduate with no debt. And among those who do have debt, it’s less than $20,000.
“That’s an investment. That’s a car,” she says. “Think of it in terms like that. It will pay itself off and off and off over a person’s lifetime.”
Most of the UC budget pays for people and facilities - costs Napolitano says she’ll continue to fight for at the state capitol.
“I think our chief challenge remains Sacramento and the budget,” she says. “I just know it. I see it. I’m not sure I quite understand why, but we’ve got to keep working at it.”
Tuition has been frozen at UC for three years. Napolitano says without a significantly larger financial contribution from the state, it will be difficult to maintain the tuition freeze moving forward.