UC President Drake – Opening Remarks UC Board of Regents Meeting

September 20, 2023

Thank you, Regent Sherman. It’s great to be back here at UCLA this week. Students across the University of California have returned for another academic year. And I want to welcome our new first-year and community college transfer students and wish everyone a productive and fulfilling school year. I noticed even driving in last night, there’s much more activity on campus this time of year than there is in the summer, and it felt great.

I also want to join Chair Leib in welcoming State Senator Scott Wiener, who will speak later today in the Public Engagement and Development Committee. Senator Wiener has been an outspoken leader on issues related to housing, the LGBTQ community, mental health care, and reforms to the criminal justice system. He’s been a dedicated public servant and a good friend to the University of California. I look forward to hearing more from him later today.

I also would like to share my words of welcome to our new Academic Senate leaders: Chair James Steintrager and Vice Chair Steven Cheung. James, I look forward to continuing our work together on behalf of the University. And Steven, very nice to see you and nice to have you joining us for this two-year stint. I have so appreciated my partnership with the Academic Senate over these past three years, and I am pleased to be able to continue that collaboration with the two of you.

I’m delighted to share with the Board that UC campuses continue to be recognized in national rankings as leading academic institutions that provide an excellent education and other benefits that last a lifetime.

Earlier this week, U.S. News & World Report released their 2023-2024 Best Colleges rankings. Six University of California campuses ranked among the top 20 public universities in the country, with UC Berkeley and UCLA tying for first place and all nine UC undergraduate campuses included in the top 40. All nine undergraduate campuses were also ranked in the top 100 of all national universities, public or private. I am particularly proud that UC Merced continues to rise in these rankings, moving up 11 places as a public university this year to number 28, and earning the number 60 rank among all universities, public or private, in the country. I remember just a few years ago when we celebrated UC Merced being in the top 100, and now it’s down to 60. It’s an impressive feat for a young campus, and congratulations are in order to the faculty, staff, and students at UC Merced, and of course to Chancellor Muñoz.

Meanwhile, all nine UC undergraduate campuses were recently named in Princeton Review’s list of Best Colleges for 2024. And importantly, these rankings are based on student reports of their experiences.

And, eight of the University’s undergraduate campuses were featured in Forbes Magazine’s list of America’s Top Colleges for 2023. Four of those campuses ranked in the top 25 of all colleges in the country, whether public or private.

Finally, in Washington Monthly’s National University Rankings, four UC campuses made the top 25 among all colleges, with UC Berkeley ranked as the number one public university in the nation.

Congratulations to all of our campuses for these well-deserved recognitions! A round of applause. These things anyway are like beauty contests, but it’s nice to win.

This morning, I’d also like to share with the Board and the UC community a few updates regarding my presidential priorities for the University. It was at this time last year that I initially shared these priorities, which were informed by numerous conversations and partnerships with our students, faculty, staff, alumni, the Board, and other stakeholders. These priorities were also informed by our collective desire to further align the University’s work with the needs of our state, and to provide the world with solutions and innovations that benefit us all.

I’m immensely proud of the progress we have achieved together in these areas over the past year, and I’d like to share a few highlights with you all today.

First: The University is on track to add 20,000 more students by 2030. That’s equivalent to building a whole new campus, but without the cost or challenges of such a project. We’re also on track to award 200,000 additional college degrees by 2030, on top of the one million degrees initially projected. This last year alone, we added more than 84,000 new undergraduate and graduate degrees.

We’re also continuing to advance our goal of creating debt-free pathways to a UC education. For fall 2022, the University awarded 6,000 debt-free financial aid packages by setting aside a larger portion of tuition revenue for financial aid than we have in previous years. This was possible thanks to our adoption of the Tuition Stability Plan. We’re aiming to grow the number of students who benefit this fall to 15,000.

We’re pushing forward on diversifying our student and faculty populations, improving timely graduation, and closing equity gaps. We achieved a 73% graduation rate for four-year freshmen, up from 66% in 2016. The graduation rate improved for transfer students as well, from 57% in 2016 to 60% now.

Five of our nine undergraduate campuses have now achieved Hispanic-Serving Institution status, and the remaining four campuses are on track to achieve this milestone by 2030.

In July, we shared with the Board that the University has adopted a new, stronger climate protection policy. This new policy prioritizes direct emission reductions, limits the use of carbon offsets, and encompasses transportation emissions in its reduction targets. This is a very exciting development in our ongoing sustainability efforts.

This last academic year, the University awarded $15 million in climate innovation grants. Since the Board last met, we announced another $80 million in climate action grants that will fund 38 projects across the state involving dozens of partners. These grants were part of a $185 million commitment by the state for climate research collaborations – and we are immensely grateful for that support.

Our campuses also continue to lead the way in sustainable operations. For example, UC Irvine is on track to open an all-electric hospital by 2025, and UC Berkeley recently received funding for the Clean Energy Campus project and is on track to shut down its natural gas-fueled co-generation plant in 2028.

Meanwhile, all UC campuses and medical centers are moving forward with implementing the UC Community Safety Plan. You will hear more details about the progress of this work later today in the Compliance and Audit Committee.

We have also expanded our outreach and education partnership programs across California. These programs prepare students who are low-income, first-generation, or from underrepresented groups to earn undergraduate and graduate degrees.

And we’ve awarded $2.7 million to 276 students through the Native American Opportunity Plan and Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria Award in the 2022-23 year. This is a new financial aid offering that ensures that in-state systemwide Tuition and Student Services Fees are fully covered for California students who are enrolled in federally recognized Native American, American Indian, and Alaska Native tribes.

Through the health enterprise, we are improving access to screening and chronic disease management in vulnerable populations for conditions such as cancer, diabetes, hypertension, and Long COVID. We are also working to expand access to UC health care resources for our own students, faculty, and staff. And we continue to improve our approach to managing health care affiliation relationships. I look forward to working on all of these issues with our next Executive Vice President for UC Health, who we hope will be approved by the Board later today. Hope is an understatement. I use a different word. I look very much forward to his being approved by the Board later today; he’ll be a great addition to our University.

These developments are very exciting, but we know the work isn’t done – and that’s exciting too. There is much to look forward to. Over the next year, we will continue to work on decarbonizing the University and expanding access to quality healthcare for vulnerable communities across California. We will also keep working to improve student-faculty ratios and to double down on transfer student support and success. We also plan to focus on improving operational processes, and we have two very important Chancellor searches underway as well.

While many of these are long-term goals, I have asked UCOP leaders to monitor and to establish milestones for the next year and to report to me on their work. I look forward to sharing our continued progress with all of you.

I also want to thank the many UC community members who have contributed to these accomplishments. Every one of them is critical to our future success, and I deeply appreciate that they all contribute every day on behalf of the University of California.

I’ll close this morning with a few words of congratulations to Regent Jose Hernandez. A new film called “A Million Miles Away” is now out on Amazon Prime. It chronicles the extraordinary journey Regent Hernandez made from his hometown of Stockton, California, where he and his family were farmworkers, to becoming a NASA astronaut. The film is out just in time for Hispanic Heritage Month, which began on September 15. Regent Hernandez: we are honored to have you as a member of this Board, and we are thrilled to see your accomplishments recognized far and wide.

Chair Sherman, that concludes my remarks. Thank you.