"More investment is needed to make sure that this generation, and future generations, of UC students receive the same quality of education as past generations," Napolitano told regents in opening remarks at the two-day meeting in San Francisco.
The regents will consider a proposal to raise tuition to $11,502 for the 2017-18 school year — a 2.5%, or $282, increase. The student services fee would increase by $54 to $1,128. If approved, it would be the first tuition increase since the 2010-2011 school year.
Financial aid would cover the increases for two-thirds of the university's roughly 175,500 California resident undergraduates, UC spokeswoman Dianne Klein said.
Nonresident undergraduates would face a total increase of $1,668. They would pay the same higher base tuition and student fees as well as 5% more in supplemental tuition, which would rise $1,332, from $26,682 to $28,014 next year.
Napolitano told regents that the 10-campus system responded to deep state funding cuts during the Great Recession by saving more than $320 million through more efficient energy use, reforms in procurement practices and other changes. Despite such efforts, she said, campuses are struggling with higher student-faculty ratios, fewer courses, fewer teaching assistants and overtaxed student services.
"We have done more with less, but at a cost," she said.
The regents will vote on the proposal Thursday.
Students fighting the proposed increases briefly shut down the last regents meeting in November.
The hikes would bring in $88 million, according to UC officials — one-third of which would go directly to financial aid. The rest would be used to support enrollment growth as well as address other pressing needs, including adding faculty, counselors and tutors and expanding mental health services.
UC has enrolled about 7,400 more California undergraduates since 2015-16 — the largest increase in 70 years — and plans to add 2,500 more this fall. One consequence of the swelling enrollment has been a rise in the student-to-faculty ratio from the historical level of about 18 to 1 to the current 21 to 1, UC officials said.
Leaders of several campuses have individually said they would use additional tuition revenue to hire 25 to 50 faculty members.
Napolitano's office, in a memo to regents, presented data showing that state support for instructional costs per student dropped by more than half, from $16,980 in 2000-01 to an estimated $7,160 this year. Over the same time, the UC's share — from tuition and fees and general funds — rose from $5,860 to $9,450.
The state cut about one-third of UC's budget during the Great Recession but has been slowly restoring it since then under a multiyear budget agreement between Napolitano and Gov. Jerry Brown.
Brown has said that it would be "reasonable" to raise tuition after the six-year freeze. But in his budget message this month, he reiterated that UC needs to find ways to cut costs.
"Tuition increases without these improvements would only burden families with the cost of an inefficient system," Brown wrote.
Brown also may add to those burdens for some families with his proposal to phase out the Middle-Class Scholarship program, beginning with new students this fall. UC officials estimate that a phase-out of the program in the next school year would deprive about 2,300 incoming students of $6.9 million in scholarship awards.
UC student body leaders have spoken out against the tuition increases. Some have said that even if financial aid covers tuition, they already have trouble paying for housing, food, textbooks and other costs.
In other business at the meeting, UC officials plan to update regents on plans to protect students in the country without legal permission from any potential changes in federal immigration policy under President Trump.
The day after Trump's election, Napolitano formed a working group to examine the issue. Later that month, UC officials announced they would refuse to assist federal immigration agents, turn over confidential student records without court orders or supply information for any national registry based on race, national origin or religion.
11:55 a.m.: This article was updated with remarks by UC President Janet Napolitano.