SAN FRANCISCO — University of California President Janet Napolitano proposed a tuition freeze on Wednesday for the 2014-2015 school year in her first address to the Board of Regents.
The freeze was among four ideas she presented at the meeting in San Francisco that she said aim to push the system into the future.
She also wants to make UC a zero-net energy consumer by 2025; streamline community college transfers; and improve the process so innovations born from university research hit the market more quickly.
Napolitano said the freeze would give the university system time to create a new fee policy to “get it right.”
“Tuition cuts right to the heart of accessibility and affordability — two of the university’s guiding stars,” she told the regents, adding later: “I want tuition to be as low as possible and I want it to be as predictable as possible.”
Napolitano, the former secretary of Homeland Security, spent the past six weeks in her new job visiting many of the system’s 10 campuses.
She observed research at the Riverside campus on the olfactory receptors of mosquitoes and fruit flies that could produce a way to protect people from malaria. She also slept in a living laboratory at the Davis campus that is in the largest planned zero net energy community in the country.
She said the visits contributed to her vision that “UC teaches for California, and it researches for the world.”
Napolitano took over as the leader of the university system at a time when finances are improving but serious challenges remain, including rising costs for employee salaries and retirement benefits.
After several years of deep cuts, Gov. Jerry Brown signed a state budget this year that boosts funding for UC.
Napolitano wants the system to bring operational costs to a minimum to keep it affordable.
Tuition has nearly tripled during the past decade as the state has slashed its budget.
Undergraduate tuition has remained at $12,192 annually for the past two years and could remain at that level for a third year thanks to tax increases approved last year by voters under Proposition 30.
Financial aid covers tuition fully for half of UC students. Another 20 percent receive some aid, paying an average of $6,500, Napolitano said.
The regents are scheduled to vote on the 2014-2015 operational budget plan Thursday.
Napolitano said in recent years the hikes have occurred primarily due to the recession and reduction in state funding. Now that the situation has improved on both fronts, Napolitano said UC needs to looks at grants, public-private partnerships, joint ventures and philanthropy, among other measures, to raise funds.
UC raised a record $1.64 billion in private donations over the past fiscal year, according to the university’s annual report on private support. The number of contributors also continues to increase, said Daniel Dooley, senior vice president for external relations.
Streamlining community college transfers will require the system to grow to accommodate the increase in students.
Napolitano also has pledged $10 million for recruiting and training graduate students and post-doctoral research fellows.
Emphasis needs to be placed on speeding the implementation of ideas and inventions that address food scarcity, energy sustainability and other world problems, she told regents.
Since her surprise appointment as the university’s 20th president in July, Napolitano has moved to alleviate the concerns of campus activists who feared she would not advocate effectively for immigrants because of her background in Washington and as a former governor of Arizona.
Napolitano has devoted $5 million to provide special counseling and financial aid for students living in the U.S. illegally. Still, several activists spoke in the public comment session Wednesday, demanding she step down.