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Benjamin Duran, president of the local community college, thinks the UC Merced
campus will lift educational aspirations in the area.
UC Merced has
mounted a large-
scale “outreach”
effort, sending
teams to area high
schools to make
sure students take
the courses needed
to be eligible for UC.
San Joaquin Valley, but some doubt that
goal can be met. They point out that many
small high schools in the area do not
offer the kind of instruction, especially
in mathematics and science, that would
prepare students for the university.
UC Merced has mounted a large-scale
“outreach” effort, sending teams to area
high schools to make sure students take
the courses needed to be eligible for UC.
They also help students and their families
with financial aid forms, loan applications
and other paperwork.
They have even organized visits to
other UC campuses, to show parents
the campus medical facilities and police
station, in an effort to reassure them that
their sons and daughters would be safe.
They call these groups “Unwilling Parents
of Willing Students.”
These efforts have met with some
success, even before UC Merced opens.
The number of students admitted to UC
campuses from 18 targeted high schools
has increased from 293 in fall 2000 to 415 last fall, said Jorge
Aguilar, director of the Center for Educational Partnerships
at UC Merced.
“If it hadn’t been for them (the UC Merced recruiters), I
probably wouldn’t have taken the right classes and probably
wouldn’t have gotten in,” said Alicia Quintero, from the
small town of Caruthers, south of Fresno.
Alicia is now a sophomore at UC Riverside,
with a 3.4 grade point average, and is
thinking about a teaching career.
But the UC Merced program lost $1.2
million as a result of last year’s budget crisis,
and the 2004-05 Schwarzenegger budget
proposes to eliminate all outreach efforts in
both the UC and Cal State systems.
“That was not a rational decision,”
said Allen Carden, executive director
of the Central Valley Higher Education
Consortium, which includes 24 two- and
four-year schools in the area.
Supporters of the new campus argue that
it will provide an economic lift to one of the
poorest areas in the state and will help to
diversify an economy that has been heavily
dependent on agriculture alone.
“There will be economic spin-offs from the research
that is done at UC Merced,” said Carol Whiteside, president
of the Great Valley Center, a public policy support group.
“And this will be an indication of the region’s emergence as a
comprehensive economy, not one just devoted to ‘the farm.’”
Whiteside also said the campus “will provide a visible
connection between kids in this area and a research
education and atmosphere, something that’s simply not
available now.”
These, then, are the arguments the University of
California is making as budget talks continue in the state
capital: The Merced campus would help to relieve UC’s
enrollment crunch, it would provide more opportunity for
San Joaquin Valley students, and it would boost the area
economy.
The main counter-arguments are that the state, which
already has nine research-oriented UC campuses, cannot
afford another at this time of financial emergency, and the
money would be better spent providing additional space for
undergraduates at the less costly California State University
and the community colleges.
Sacramento budget watchers say the outcome will not
be determined until negotiations conclude, probably in
late spring or early summer. In the meantime, UC Merced
officials continue to plan and hope, aware that they are only
small players in the Great Budget Game.
“There are a lot of people with an interest in the
outcome,” Vice Chancellor Lindsay Desrochers said. “We’re
just a chit in the game.”
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