My October newsletter

October 31, 2014

Dear friends and colleagues,

Fall is the time of year when we begin to prepare for our annual budget discussions with the state. As those discussions approach I’ve been thinking a lot about the role of higher education in society, and several fundamental principles that go to the heart of what makes UC the best public research university in the world.

The first is that you cannot cut your way to continued excellence. It may seem obvious, but when I look around the higher education landscape, it’s clear that it is not.

In the last six years, 41 states have asked their public universities and colleges to cut costs while demanding that they maintain or even expand their academic excellence, research prowess, enrollment capacity and public service efforts. Only 14 states have returned to investing levels equal to or above pre-recession levels and last year 20 states cut even more funding from public colleges and universities.

Now, I’m the first to agree that universities should do everything they can to make the most of the money entrusted to them by taxpayers. Administrators like me bear a solemn responsibility to eliminate financial waste and inefficiencies wherever we can.

But costs are not the same as waste, and too often the public dialogue about higher education associates all costs with waste. Those engaged in that dialogue should be wary of believing that cutting costs is a magic bullet that can make financial problems disappear.

And that brings me to the next principle, which is that there is no single magic bullet. This is especially true when it comes to education and technology.

Technology is a valuable educational tool, and UC is at the forefront of exploring innovative and productive uses for technology in the classroom and around the university. But technology in education is best used to support research and enhance the learning experience, not to replace faculty or cut classroom time, as some suggest.

The third principle is that when it comes to public policy and higher education, one size does not fit all.

In the United States, we have many different kinds of institutions of higher education. They have different missions and different kinds of students. Public policy that ignores these differences is likely to be ineffective and could even do more harm than good. Sound public policy, on the other hand, distinguishes among the different roles played by different kinds of universities and colleges.

The University of California exists to conduct basic research and to educate the next generation of Californians. It creates and transforms knowledge, and it fosters social mobility from which we all benefit.

At UC, 42 percent of the more than 188,000 undergraduates are first-generation college students, 30 percent are transfer students and this fall alone some 25 percent of the freshman class comes from homes where English is not the primary language. And there’s more. Forty-two percent of our undergraduates come from low-income families and qualify for Pell Grants. Within five years of graduating from UC, those graduates are earning salaries that are higher than their families’ combined incomes were before they went to college.

These are numbers that highlight UC’s power as an engine of social mobility. These graduates are growing California’s economy and they should inspire us and fill us with hope for the future of the state and the nation.

And that brings me to the last principle: An investment in education is an investment in an advanced and prosperous society. Our future success as a state and nation is about brains, not brawn. It’s no longer enough to out-produce the world, we have to out-think it. The future belongs to the thinkers, the dreamers and the innovators.

These fundamental principles are not just facts to be discussed. They are, rather, truths that provide the foundation of my advocacy on behalf of our great university. They give me the ammunition I use when I make the economic case for increased commitment and investment in UC: That investment will help us educate more students, who will become the engaged, educated workers and innovators that fuel our economy and secure our future.

But I also want to make the moral case for that investment. Here in California we call it the California Dream, but around the world it’s perhaps better known as the American Dream. It’s the idea that each generation pays it forward to the next one. It’s the idea that our children will have a shot at a better future than we did.

I believe we have a moral imperative to serve the rising generations just as we served generations in the past — from returning World War II GIs to the Baby Boomers. The students of today and tomorrow deserve the same opportunity that their predecessors had.

I believe it’s up to us to ensure they get it.

Thanks for reading. If you’d like to share an idea or comment, feel free to email me at janet@ucop.edu. And please pass this note on to friends and colleagues you think might be interested. If they like it, encourage them to sign up for future newsletters.

Yours very truly,

Janet Napolitano
President