150 Years of Opportunity

March 7, 2018

President Janet Napolitano gave the keynote address at the 150 Years of Opportunity meeting at the Commonwealth Club of California in San Francisco, CA on March 7, 2018. Here are her remarks as prepared for delivery:

Good afternoon! Thank you, Joe, for that warm introduction! I’d like to echo the welcome to Chancellors Hawgood, May, Wilcox, and Yang; Regents Anguiano and Monge; leaders of the University of California’s Academic Senate; UC alumni; other members and friends of the UC community; and members of the public who have joined us to mark the 150thanniversary of the University of California.
I also want to give special thanks to the Commonwealth Club of California for hosting us today. It’s wonderful to be back here and to celebrate such a momentous occasion!
Some of you may recall that I gave my first speech as President of the University of California at the Commonwealth Club almost five years ago. It was October 30 of 2013. That year, President Barack Obama was inaugurated for his second term, the 49ers actually made it to the Super Bowl, and Facebook was still cool. (I think…).
I was one of California’s newest residents, and I faced the enormous task of laying out my vision for the state’s crown jewel public research university system, the University of California. In forming that vision, I had studied up on the story of the University.
And some of you know this story well, but many Californians do not. In 1862, while the United States was engulfed in the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln would have been forgiven if he chose to focus solely on the tasks in front of him: defeating the Confederacy, ending slavery, and reuniting the country.
But in his wisdom, President Lincoln chose to look beyond the Civil War. If the United States survived this crisis, President Lincoln saw an opportunity to make the Union even stronger. He signed a law—the Morrill Land Grant Act—which gave land to the states for the purpose of building public institutions of education and research.
California’s early settlers saw an opportunity then, too – and they seized it. They got to work building a new university. And although they looked to institutions on the East Coast and in Europe for inspiration, they were intent on creating a different kind of university – one more accessible and egalitarian than Oxford or Columbia. Daniel Coit Gilman, one of UC’s founding fathers, summed it up this way:
“It is not the University of Berlin nor of New Haven which we are to copy… but it is the University of this state. It must be adapted to these people, to their public and private schools, to their peculiar geographical position, to the requirements of their new society and their undeveloped resources.”
At the time of the University’s establishment in 1868, no other institution resembled what early Californians had in mind for their university: a top-notch higher education institution accessible to all who qualify academically – regardless of their income or their background. Indeed, the University of California has always been ahead of the curve when it comes to breaking barriers and expanding opportunity:

  • Fifty years before American women secured the right to vote, the University of California was already admitting women. Eight of them attended classes at UC in that first year.
  • Before the Civil Rights Act of 1964 became the law of the land, Roy Overstreet became the first African American to receive a degree from UC Riverside. He went on to become the country’s first black oceanographer.
  • And more than two decades before the U.S. Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage in all 50 states, the University of California opened its first LGBT resource center – the first of its kind on any California campus.
  • Perhaps one of the most emblematic stories of UC’s unique approach to creating opportunity is the one about a boy from Bakersfield. He was of humble beginnings: his father immigrated to the U.S. from Norway, and he worked at the Southern Pacific railyards to support the family.
His son followed in the father’s hardworking footsteps, taking odd jobs to save money for college. He spent his summers sweating on an ice wagon, delivering newspapers, and driving a grocery’s mule team. Occasionally, to escape the blistering heat, he would sneak into the county courthouse and watch the trials in progress.
And then, in August of 1908, this young man became the first kid from hard-scrabble East Bakersfield to enroll at UC Berkeley.
And from there, you can probably guess the rest of the story: Earl Warren went on to become Alameda County’s District Attorney, Governor of California, and one of the most revered Chief Justices in the history of the U.S. Supreme Court. A California boy from a working-class family who seized the opportunity to pursue a UC education became the Chief Justice whose court unanimously declared that racial segregation in our public schools was unconstitutional, paving the way for many more Americans to pursue their own educational dreams.
Stories like this – of a UC education opening doors to unimagined possibilities – define the University of California. They have shown us, time and again, that the opportunity to attend the University of California and earn a college degree can fundamentally change Californians’ lives for the better, and they, in turn, change the lives of others still.
In the 150 years since UC was established, we have honored the original vision that makes these life-changing moments possible. We’ve done it with steadfast commitment to academic excellence, aiming to recruit and retain the best faculty in their fields. And we’ve done it with an intentional approach to ensuring that every Californian has a shot at a UC education.
That commitment to creating opportunity has paid off in the form of social and economic mobility for the individual. Forty-two percent of our undergraduates—forty-two percent!—are the first in their family to attend a four-year college or university. And just as I reflected today on the inspiring story of Earl Warren, I am confident that UC’s president 150 years from now will be able to look back on the successes and breakthroughs of today’s UC students, including our first-generation college students.
The economic mobility of the individual has, in turn, resulted in economic benefits to local communities, the state, and the nation. After all, it was a UC Berkeley faculty member, Eugene W. Hilgard, whose research helped farmers remove salts from Central Valley soils, turning barren land into a $45 billion agricultural industry. Today, California produces the majority of our nation’s fruits, vegetables, and nuts (and not to mention all that great wine.)
And the commitment to creating opportunity has fostered the creativity, passion, and knowledge necessary to make new discoveries and solve problems big and small, for the common good.
For example, when UCSF clinicians and researchers started the nation’s first outpatient AIDS clinic and inpatient ward at San Francisco General Hospital, it signified the beginning of a multi-disciplinary effort to fight this devastating disease.
And after a UCLA alumnus, Ralph J. Bunche negotiated the armistice agreements that ended the Arab-Israeli War of 1948, he became the first African American to win a Nobel Prize for his efforts to bring peace to a volatile region.
Today, UC researchers continue to align their work with the needs of the public – by endeavoring to cure cancer, working to address climate change, developing an earthquake warning system, to list but three examples.
This year is UC’s 150thanniversary—its sesquicentennial—so it’s natural to reminisce about these past accomplishments. And it’s tempting to look at the University’s stunning story of success and think that we can all sit back and simply admire what California has achieved with its public research university system.
But rather than resting on our laurels, these accomplishments should spur us to further action. Knowing how transformative a UC education can be – for the individual, and for society at large – it’s incumbent upon us to help more Californians become part of the opportunity story at UC.
And doing so is no easy feat. We have no special formula that will conjure up more funding, no silver bullet that can streamline the diversity pipeline, no quick or easy solution to any of the challenges we must overcome. But we do know that a UC education translates into a lifetime of opportunity.
So, this afternoon, I’d like to share with you three specific steps that the University of California, in partnership with the State of California, can take to put a UC degree into the hands of more Californians.
The first step involves community college transfers.
Nearly one-third of UC’s undergraduates begin their higher education path at a community college. These students succeed at the same rate as those who arrive at UC as undergraduates, and they contribute to the diversity of experiences among our student body. Within a decade of completing their UC degrees, over half of those who transferred from a community college, and who work in California, are earning salaries that place them among the top third of income-earners in the state.
And their personal stories are very inspiring:
There’s Jesse Silva, whose journey over the past six years has taken him through military service in Afghanistan, to hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, to Cabrillo College in Aptos, California, and eventually to UC Santa Cruz. This June, he will graduate with a double major in philosophy and politics.
And there’s Daniela Estrada, the UC Irvine political science major who graduated last June with high honors and was named a Fulbright and a Truman scholar. You might not have guessed that Daniela was also a first-generation college student whose father was forced to quit school as a young child to pick tobacco in the fields of Mexico.
Early in my presidency, I made a commitment to increase the number of community college transfer students at UC – students like Jesse and Daniela. We have done so by collaborating closely with our counterparts at the California Community Colleges and working to simplify the transfer process. The efforts have paid off: in the fall of 2017, UC had 6,000 more California Community College transfer students enrolled at our campuses than we did in the fall of 2013 when I first arrived at the University.
But this doesn’t mean our work is done. We need to take it even further. So, today I am calling on UC’s Academic Senate to determine what it will take to extend a guarantee of admission to all qualifying California Community College transfer students.
The guarantee can use the current 21 Transfer Pathways as a key building block. Successful completion of a Pathway, along with obtaining the requisite GPA, should entitle a community college student to a guaranteed place in the UC system. Harmonizing the current Transfer Admission Agreements—the TAG’s—and allowing prospective students to have more than one Transfer Admission Agreement, should also facilitate the transfer. Where the community college Associates Degree for Transfer equates to or exceeds the major preparation contained in a UC Transfer Pathway, it should be considered for acceptance in lieu of a Pathway for purposes of a guarantee.
I am asking the Academic Senate to review these and other proposals to facilitate transfer and transfer-preparation so that the guarantees are in place by the fall of 2019, at the outset of the University’s 151stacademic year.
This would be a major leap for the University of California – one that must be implemented carefully to achieve its desired effect. I am committed to working closely with leaders at the California Community Colleges, at our own Academic Senate, and other stakeholders to make sure we get this right.
Of course, many of UC’s undergraduates enroll as freshmen. In keeping with UC’s mission to serve Californians, the University has gone to great lengths to increase enrollment of California students over the past several years – without new enrollment funding from the state.
Three years ago, we made a commitment to enroll an additional 10,000 California students by the 2018-19 academic year. I’m proud to say that we have already met that goal and that today, more Californians study at the University of California than at any point in our history. Importantly, our undergraduate student body is ever more diverse: nearly one-third of the students who enrolled last fall come from historically under-represented minority groups.
The push to increase enrollment of Californians comes, in part, because of the great demand for a UC education. Last year, the number of UC admission applications broke the record for the 13thstraight year. That same demand also dictates that we do everything we can to help current UC students graduate on time, and make room for the next cohort of undergraduates. That’s where step two comes in.
Today, I am calling on UC’s Chancellors to explore how we can further streamline the degree pipeline and ensure that at least 70 percent of our undergraduates earn their degrees within four years.
Raising UC’s four-year graduation rate from its current 64 percent would make room for more undergraduates, and generate an additional 32,000 undergraduate degrees between now and 2030. It’s almost like adding another campus. Students will also be able to reduce their college costs by moving more quickly into the workforce or to graduate or professional school.
I believe we can meet this challenge by expanding access to online education courses, increasing UC’s summer session enrollment, encouraging more students to study abroad, and doubling-down on our student support services.
Once more, we will be conscientious in our approach. We will not diminish UC’s academic quality or our students’ ability to succeed by forcing a one-size-fits-all educational model. But we will push our University community to widen the definition of what a UC education can look like, and provide new ways for California students to earn their degrees in a timely manner.
This brings me to the third step UC and California must take together.
We’ve been told for some time that our state will soon face a significant shortage in college-educated residents. That’s a prospect that should concern every single Californian who cares about the state’s future. It demands that we grapple with a complex question: how do we help more Californians achieve the college education we know they need and want?
Today, I am asking the State Legislature and the next Governor of California to work with the University and the California State University to help answer that question. Together, we can tackle the college graduate gap and make sure our state is producing the educated workforce it needs for the decades ahead.
Expanding opportunity this way will be a challenging but fruitful endeavor. It’s true that those who earn a UC bachelor’s degree in California will double their earnings between two and 10 years after graduation. But the positive impact of UC alumni and their degrees radiates beyond the individual to the college graduate’s family, their local community, the state, and the nation as a whole. It manifests itself in new ideas, stronger communities, and critical jobs filled.
Consider that of UC’s 2 million alumni, more than 1.2 million are still living and working in California. Their top industries of employment are health care, education, and engineering and computer science – all important areas for our state.
Consider that one in three California elected officials are UC alumni. Two of California’s Supreme Court Justices, including the Chief Justice, are UC graduates. And nearly one-half of the medical students and residents in California are trained at the University of California.
And consider that UC alumni lead the way in launching companies that can create jobs for other Californians. In 2017, the data firm PitchBook ranked five UC campuses in the top 50 for producing venture-capital backed entrepreneurs. Since 2006, alumni from these five campuses—and that’s just five—started more than 2,000 companies, and raised more than $36 billion in capital.
Now, the effort to address the degree gap will require close collaboration and careful planning on the part of the state’s public higher education segments. On UC’s end, the solution must not only take into account undergraduate enrollment but also graduate education. Graduate research stimulates some of California’s most vital industries, such as biotechnology, agriculture, and climate science. Increasingly, today’s jobs – particularly in the STEM and education fields – require training beyond a bachelor’s degree. And recent growth in undergraduate enrollment at UC will almost certainly translate into greater demand for graduate education in the years ahead.
The work to address the degree gap will also require a significant investment by the state to fund critical educational needs. UC is grateful for the state support we’ve received in recent years, following devastating budget cuts during the Great Recession. But we still do not have sufficient state support to pay for increases in enrollment, the necessary expansion of our campuses, or the growing needs of our students.
In fact, UC educates 90,000 more students today than we did in the year 2000, yet our state appropriations have remained flat. Put another way, if UC received the same per-student funding today as we did in 2000, our state appropriation would amount to more than $7 billion, instead of the $3.4 billion we currently receive.
This, too, should concern every single Californian. A vibrant University of California is critical to the upward trajectory of our state and its people. You’ve heard snippets today about students, faculty, and alumni whose UC experience made it possible for them to accomplish incredible things and made it possible for the state to reap incredible benefits. But even those who have never stepped foot on a UC campus – if you’ve ever eaten a strawberry or reached for a glass of wine, used a nicotine patch or looked at an LED screen – you have been touched by this University, and have a stake in preserving this treasure of an institution.
Great American strides have always required public investment in the common good, whether it was the GI Bill or the New Deal. Now is the time for Californians to once again invest in the common good, and for all of us to partner on a bold plan to expand access to the University of California, while sustaining its academic quality and supporting its research excellence.
I may be a little biased, but I believe the University of California is an institution worth investing in – and worth fighting for. UC is special, a daring public experiment that’s become a priceless public good. It belongs to all of us, and every Californian deserves the opportunity to reap its rewards.
Our state’s early settlers were audacious enough to imagine such an institution. They nurtured their grand idea, molded it and set it out into the world, and today it has evolved into a university system they likely couldn’t have envisioned at the time: a small college in Oakland, California, developed into UC Berkeley, the best public university in the nation, if not the world. That same institution gave rise to a medical college we now call UCSF; the “University Farm,” better known as UC Davis; the “Southern Branch,” which today we call UCLA; and the “Citrus Experiment Station,” now known as UC Riverside. New campuses in Santa Barbara, San Diego, Irvine, and Santa Cruz eventually joined the family. And in 2005, UC was proud to open the first research university of the 21stcentury in the United States in Merced.
We may not know exactly how the next chapter of the UC story will read. But I suspect President Abraham Lincoln would advise us to keep one eye on the present, and the other firmly on the horizon. Our task now is to capture the same pioneering spirit of those early Californians, re-imagine what the University of California could be in this new age, and pivot toward another century-and-a-half of promise and possibility.
And in the words of the motto of the University of California, “Fiat Lux!” Or, “Let There Be Light!” And let it shine brightly over the next 150 years. Thank you!