SAN FRANCISCO -- Meeting on Friday for the first time, the leaders of California's three public higher education systems vowed to work closely together to bring them into the future -- and to rally the public around their value to society.

Speaking to an audience of state college lobbyists and advocates from around the country, new UC President Janet Napolitano -- a former governor of Arizona and federal homeland security secretary -- stressed that the message needs to be about investment, not need.

"I think it is a losing strategy just to go say, 'We need more money,'" she said. "Everybody needs more money. Everybody was cut. There are competing needs all over the place."

The leaders' remarks at the American Association of State Colleges and Universities conference on government relations at San Francisco's Parc 55 Hotel came a year after the passage of Proposition 30, a voter-approved state tax measure that brought public universities out of a years-long budget crisis and into what Napolitano called "an inflection point."

Now, she and her counterparts -- CSU Chancellor Timothy White and California Community Colleges Chancellor Brice Harris -- plan to work more closely together to make the systems work better for students.

Proposition 30 "stabilized the system, but now we need to think about what we need to grow, and grow in the right way," Napolitano said.


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It has been 50 years since the landmark Master Plan for Higher Education -- drafted in much fatter times -- mapped out the intertwined roles of the University of California, California State University and California Community Colleges.

That plan needs to be updated and energized, but it's not dead, White said.

"When I read about the master plan and I hear a lot of smart people saying it's broken or needs to be thrown out, I say, 'Nonsense,'" he said. "The basic master plan is just like me -- a little tattered, a little gray and frazzled on the outside, but still standing strong."

White noted that college students today are more likely to be older and have families and jobs; the system needs to be designed for them, too, he said.

In a departure from some of the online education hype that marked the early part of the year, White and Napolitano said they didn't see online course technology as a solution for lower-division or remedial course work -- though they said it is promising for some specialized courses.

White went further, calling a recent San Jose State experiment with the online startup Udacity -- in which fewer than half of the students passed online courses -- a failure.

"For those who say, 'Well, Tim, you'll save a lot of money if ... you do more things online,' that's not correct," he said.

Follow Katy Murphy at Twitter.com/katymurphy.