OAKLAND -- The University of California will do more to enroll minority students and advertise its free ride for families making less than $80,000 a year, said its new president, Janet Napolitano, who took over the job Sept. 30.

The former Homeland Security secretary told students at Oakland Technical High School, "Our doors are open. I'm not sure our doors are open wide enough, and we're going to do more of that while I am president."

After her short speech to students, Napolitano spoke with reporters and deflected criticism that she didn't do enough to stop the deportation of immigrant children brought here illegally while heading Homeland Security from 2009 to earlier this year.

"I'm the one who testified for the Dream Act repeatedly and the need for reform," Napolitano said. "It's kind of ironic that the criticism I took in D.C. was that I was not hard enough on immigration and I was too much for reform. Now I'm getting the flip side of that."

Napolitano said the rough seas of tuition increases and budget cuts to the UC system have "been weathered to a large degree, and I hope for somewhat smoother sailing in that regard."

She said she wants to get more minority students into the UC system within the confines of Proposition 209 which banned raced-based preferences in university admissions.

She called the concept that minority enrollment has fallen in the UC system since Proposition 209 was passed in 1996 a "misrepresentation."

"Here's an interesting fact: Over 40 percent of our student body comes from low-income families and are first-generation," she said.

But in 1998, the year Proposition 209 took effect, the admissions rate for black students applying to enter UC Berkeley's freshman class fell from 47.8 percent to 19.7 percent and Latino students saw their chances of freshman admission go from 44.4 percent to 20.6 percent. And in 2010, even though more than half of California's public high school graduates were black, Latino or Native American, students of those ethnicities made up just 25 percent of the UC system's freshman class and 15 percent of the freshmen at UC Berkeley.

Napolitano, whose father graduated from Castlemont High School in Oakland, told students at Oakland Tech that if they qualify academically and they are poor, they don't need to worry about money to get in to a UC school.

"You don't have the money to go to college, it's too expensive, that's not a reason not to go," she said.

Former Oakland Tech student Daishar Young, 23, who graduated from UC Berkeley and now works in Oakland schools, told students before Napolitano took the podium that he had no money to go to college. His mother died in 2005, he said.

"Every day during lunch break I was applying for scholarships," Young said. "With the technology, there are millions of scholarships that you just have to apply for. I entered UC Berkeley with a full ride scholarship."

University of California President Janet Napolitano speaks to students at Oakland Technical High School in Oakland, Calif., on Wednesday, Oct. 30, 2013.
University of California President Janet Napolitano speaks to students at Oakland Technical High School in Oakland, Calif., on Wednesday, Oct. 30, 2013. (Dan Honda/Bay Area News Group)

Another former Oakland Tech student, Brian Chung, told students to advocate for themselves, especially if their parents, like his, don't speak English and don't understand admission processes for universities.

"I didn't question whether I was going to college, it was just a matter of where," Chung said. "I didn't let a rejection letter from Cal get in the way. I got in through the appeals process. Honestly, it's your life, you're not here to impress an admissions officer. You're here to better yourself."

Contact Doug Oakley at 925-234-1699. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/douglasoakley.