Janet Napolitano, president of the University of California, wants to see more community college students transferring to UC schools, she said in a discussion Monday to Cuesta College.
Napolitano, who spearheaded the controversial Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program as a member of the Obama administration, visited Cuesta to address topics including access to higher education, immigrant students, graduation rates and free speech on college campuses.
Janet Napolitano said she envisions a UC system that, over the next five to 10 years, has a more diverse student body and faculty, additional online education, and a big expansion to its newest campus in Merced.
On a topic that would resonate with Cuesta students, Napolitano said she is striving for a 2-to-1 ratio of freshmen to transfer students, compared with 2.3 to 1 in 2016, after signing a memorandum of understanding with California Community College Chancellor Eloy Oakley.
"The UC is the world's best public research university," said Napolitano, who served as governor of Arizona from 2003-09 and U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security from 2009-13. "My vision is to continue to grow in a healthy way."
Napolitano said that a comprehensive effort called "Enhancing Student Transfer" will guarantee admission for all California Community College transfer students who meet certain criteria, including those from Cuesta, into one of the 10 UC campuses. The program will begin in fall 2019.
At the midday conversation with Cuesta President Gil Stork, Napolitano was also asked by students about access to higher education and the cost of paying for it.
Napolitano noted the UC's Blue and Gold plan that waives tuition and fees for students from families that make under $80,000 per year.
And Stork said that Cuesta is working toward adding a second year of the Cuesta Promise program, which allows high school graduates from San Luis Obispo County to attend their first year tuition-free.
"Access to college is a challenge in this region," said Cuesta President Gil Stork, who said that one of his biggest goals as Cuesta's leader has been to increase the numbers of transfers to Cal Poly. "I have worked with past Cal Poly President Warren Baker and current President Jeff Armstrong, telling them they need to accept more transfers."
Stork added, "Our students have to be able to relocate to UCSB."
Stork said that he hasn't seen the rates of Cuesta transfers increase at Cal Poly in recent years, though discussions are taking place and avenues to increase transfers in certain majors appear likely. Cuesta is the No. 1 feeder college to Cal Poly and has been for many years, Cal Poly statistics show.
After the Trump administration's repeal of the DACA program, which is awaiting an appeal decision (Napolitano sued the Trump administration over the repeal decision), Napolitano said she'd continue to advocate for the program both from a legal and legislative perspective.
Napolitano recalled sending the first memo urging implementation of the program, which protects some immigrants who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children with a renewable two-year period of deferred action from deportation and eligibility for a U.S. work permit.
"We have 4,000 UC undergraduates, most of them undocumented, and their lives are being impacted by the DACA decision," Napolitano said. "Anyone in DACA, you should keep your enrollment up to date while the injunction is in place (to stop deportation)."
As a high-achieving woman, Napolitano encouraged female students to "take risks" to reach their goals. That was her mentality when running for office as a Democrat in Arizona, which can be a challenge in a state that often votes Republican, she said.
"I didn't want to be 80 years old in my rocking chair thinking woulda, coulda, shoulda," Napolitano said. "So, I put my hat in the ring. You don't know until you try, and really go for it."
Asked by The Tribune about the recent incidents of a Cal Poly student using blackface and the appearance of right-wing provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos, Napolitano said that attempts by protesters should not be to shut them down, but to counter with "more speech."
On Monday evening, Napolitano joined a wide-ranging conversation hosted by San Luis Obispo Chamber of Commerce CEO Ermina Karim, which touched on today's charged political climate, DACA and promoting cross-border ties with Mexico.