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“One of the reasons the campus came here was to try
to make a difference with low-income, especially Hispanic,
students,” said Director of Admissions Encarnacion Ruiz.
In fall 2002, the last year for which figures are available,
only 1,414 out of almost 41,000 high school graduates in
the 11 counties enrolled at a UC campus, according to the
California Postsecondary Education Commission. About
half of those who qualify for admission to UC do not apply,
Ruiz said. Of those who are admitted, half do not enroll.
“This really is a cultural thing,” Tomlinson-Keasey said.
“For some, cost is a barrier, but for many families, they just
don’t want their children to go away to college,” even if the
campus is not very far away.
Benjamin T. Duran, president of Merced College, the
local two-year community college, agreed. “If you’re a non-
English-speaking parent, and your son or daughter comes
to you and says, ‘Dad, I’ve been accepted at Berkeley,’ you’re
probably going to say, ‘no, I don’t think so,’” Duran said.
Duran grew up in Merced, one of eight children of farm
worker parents and the first in his family to attend college.
In the 1980s he was
superintendent of a high
school district where
most of the students were
“I was frustrated,”
he said. “I had some
really talented students
who didn’t even apply”
to the University of
California. A few went
to nearby Fresno State or
Stanislaus State and did
well, but many did not
go to college at all. Duran
believes the presence of a
research campus like UC
Merced will lift the aspirations of many such students.
Chancellor Tomlinson-Keasey hopes that one-third to
one-half of UC Merced undergraduates will come from the
million from the state for buildings and equipment, according to the
Legislative Analyst’s Office.
Because the state budget included no money for enrollment growth
in 2008-09, other UC campuses agreed to contribute $6 million to pay
for new students at UCMerced—an unprecedented step, UC statewide
officials said.
Despite the budget problems, the UC Board of Regents has
authorized planning for a medical school at UCMerced. “The need is
great in the Central Valley,” said Keith Alley, provost and executive vice
president, but “planning will take the better part of a decade.”
Undergraduates enjoy many small classes. The student-faculty ratio
is 15 to one, smaller than other UC general campuses. There is a heavy
emphasis on science and engineering. Half of the undergraduates, and
40 percent of the graduate students, are enrolled in those subjects.
The campus awarded its first doctorate in 2008.
“Where we’re really hurting is in terms of space, especially research
space,” said Shawn Kantor, professor of economics and chairman of the
academic senate. “We aren’t being funded as a new campus should be,”
he said. “There are many things we’d like to do, but the money isn’t there.”
There are three main academic buildings on the campus, with a
fourth scheduled to open in early 2010. Some faculty and administrative
staff (including Chancellor Kang’s microchip research group) are housed
at the former Castle Air Force Base, about six miles north of Merced.
Faculty members also complain about a lack of staff support and
about a heavy faculty workload.
“There are not enough senior faculty here, so junior faculty have to
bear a disproportionate burden,” said Gregg Herken, professor of history,
who was one of the first faculty members hired. “They have to teach
their classes, do their research, serve on committees, even recruit new
faculty,” all while doing enough original work to gain tenure.
But Herken retains “tempered enthusiasm” for UCMerced’s
accomplishments to date. “I was a student at UC Santa Cruz when that
campus was new,” he said. “Things were ragged at the edges in the early
years, but now things have settled down. I’m sure the same will be true
Kenji Hakuta came to UC Merced as dean of Social
Sciences, Humanities and Arts, after 14 years at
Stanford University.
meeting the needs of the whole
Applications have
increased as the existence
of the Merced campus has
become better known and as
other UC general campuses
have reached capacity and
have become more selective.
(In fall 2007, UCLA admitted
only 23.6 percent of 43,724
freshman applicants, UC
Berkeley 24.7 percent of 36,083
applicants; but UCMerced
admitted 79.6 percent of the
8,114 who applied.)
For fall 2008, UCMerced
received more than 10,000
applications from first-year
students. Freshman enrollment
was 925, exceeding the 700 that had been planned, and the total
enrollment was 2,718.
The campus opened during a time of chronic state budget deficits
and curtailment of California’s postsecondary education spending.
There were sharp reductions in the 2005-06 academic year, with another
series of cuts scheduled for 2008-09.
“Our operations are very, very sensitive to fluctuations in the
budget,” Chancellor Kang said. “It determines howmany students we
can take, howmany faculty we can hire, howmuch classroom and lab
space we will have.”
In the 2007-08 academic year UCMerced employed about 100
full-time faculty members, 78 lecturers and a staff of about 580. The
campus budget for that year was about $100 million. Of that, $40 million
came from the state, including $14 million in “startup” money that will
phase out in 2011-12. Student fees (the University of California quaintly
refuses to use the term “tuition”) generated another $13 million.
In addition to operating funds, the campus has received about $300
Because the state
budget included no
money for enrollment
growth in 2008-09,
other UC campuses
agreed to contribute
$6 million to pay
for new students
at UC Merced—an
unprecedented step.