My April newsletter

April 21, 2014

Dear Colleagues,

Just a few weeks ago, I celebrated six months in my position as UC president — and what a half year it’s been. Each month has brought exciting opportunities and testing challenges.

In recent months I’ve become acutely aware that one of our most important challenges is to make sure all of California’s students believe they have a place in their state’s higher education system. I’ve been working hard, along with my colleagues Tim White at California State University and Brice Harris at California Community Colleges, to find ways to expand opportunity for all of California’s students to go to college, whether they’re seeking a place at a community college, a state university or a UC campus.

The three of us have been on the road, making joint presentations to our respective governing boards, and we will meet again on April 29 in Sacramento — on Joint Higher Education Advocacy Day — to bring our message of inclusion and opportunity to the state and its leaders.

It is clear that one of the issues we have to tackle is finding ways to identify and encourage promising youths who, because they think they can’t afford it or because no one in their family has done it, don’t even apply to college. UC already outperforms other universities when it comes to admitting lower income and first-generation college students — 40 percent of the student body comes from low income households and 46 percent of the 2013 freshman class are first-generation college going students — but we must do more.

To help boost our efforts in this area, I recently kicked off a partnership with the College Board by sending a letter to low income students whose test results show they can do college-level work. I want these high schoolers to start to see themselves as future college students and to take the right courses to prepare. And, we’ve created a new Start website — a front door to UC — to support them and their families.

I also want community college students to be able to follow a clear path if they want to come to UC. We want students who enter community college with the intent to transfer to UC or CSU to view themselves from the beginning as university-eligible students, and to know specifically what they need to achieve their goals. We’ve made a good start on this initiative, but there’s still a lot of work to be done. Stay tuned, I’ll have more to say about this next month.

On another front, we’re working to level the playing field for our students who can’t access federal loans. During my tour of UC campuses last fall I heard about the financial aid gap our undocumented students face, because they can’t access federal funds, and directed $5 million in one-time funds to help. It was a good first step, but it was only a first step.

So I’m proud to say that UC this year is sponsoring legislation, known as the California Dream Loan Program, which would provide these students with access to state educational loans. Along with other financial aid, these loans would make it easier for undocumented students to attend UC and put them on a more equivalent footing with other students.

As you can see, I take very seriously the university’s goal of giving every qualified student in California the chance to attend UC. For me, this goal is about more than numbers or living up to some abstract ideal. It’s about preserving opportunity — equal opportunity — and ensuring our young people have the chance to realize their dreams. We’re already doing a lot to achieve this, but we can do more. Look for additional announcements about this in the weeks ahead.

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

Yours very truly,

Janet Napolitano
President