But so far he's finding it's a lot easier said than done.
A day after Brown released his revised state budget that dropped a proposal to cap the number of units students can take at the cheaper in-state tuition rate - which was supposed to create incentives for them to graduate on time - the governor said he's still trying to figure out how to make higher education speedier.
"We are searching for ways to, as they say in the business world, align the incentives," Brown said to the University of California's governing board of regents, who were meeting Wednesday at the Sacramento Convention Center.
"I don't like that phrase, but we are searching for ways to push people along."
Brown pointed out that two of his proposals to do just that have been rejected by the education establishment. His suggestion last year to put a limit on the number of years the state would give students Cal Grant scholarships, and require they meet certain academic standards, was "not received with the same enthusiasm with which it was proposed," Brown said.
This year, Brown proposed charging California students the higher out-of-state tuition if they surpass a certain number of credits without graduating.
"That was shot down," he said.
The revised budget Brown released Tuesday calls for increasing funding to UC and the California State University system by about 20 percent over the next four years. It also says the universities should improve graduation rates and reduce the cost per degree.
On Wednesday, UC regents examined a report that shows improvement in UC's graduation rates over the last 25 years. The percentage of students graduating in four years has risen from 37 percent of those who began in 1992 to 60 percent of those who began in 2007, the report says. The portion of students graduating in six years has increased from 76 percent to 83 percent during the same time period. UC's report says its graduation rates are higher than similar public schools in other states but lower than the private schools with which it competes for students and faculty.
Brown scrutinized the graduation statistics, saying he wanted to know what was responsible for the improved performance at each of UC's nine undergraduate campuses. He said he'd like to see the four-year graduation rate reach 80 percent.
"I don't get excited about six years. To me, four years is the norm," Brown said.
Regent Eddie Island pushed back, saying that a focus on how long it takes students to graduate could force UC to be even choosier in who it admits.
"There is data there that would suggest we can instantly improve time to graduation if we become more selective. Smarter kids graduate faster. We know that," Island said. "That isn't what we want to do, necessarily."
He cautioned against passing over students from poor families who may need to work their way through school, and said the university could instead help students graduate faster by hiring more faculty to advise them and handing out more scholarships so they can focus on their studies.
UC President Mark Yudof said many factors influence the time it takes for students to graduate, including how much pressure their parents put on them, how much they have to work to afford tuition and how complex the requirements are for their majors of study.
Brown suggested that perhaps technology - "a little app," he said - could help students by alerting them of their progress toward graduation.
Brown attended UC's meeting in the afternoon but missed a morning showdown with the AFSCME labor union. Hospital workers who are part of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union are locked in bitter contract negotiations with UC management and have pledged to go on strike for two days next week.
UC officials say that union members are unwilling to participate in the university's plan for reduced pension benefits for new employees. AFSCME representatives say the university's proposals compromise patient safety.
Workers interrupted the meeting with chants of protest and sat on the floor with locked arms. Police arrested 13 people, said UC spokesman Peter King.
PHOTO CREDIT: Protestors rally in front of the Sacramento Convention Center as they support University of California Employees AFSCME 3299 workers as UC Regents meet on Wednesday, May 15, 2013.