Campus Marks 10th Academic Year with Strongest Freshman Class

UC Merced begins 10th year with record student enrollment, strong focus on growth, research and academic priorities

The University of California, Merced, marks a major milestone today with the start of the 2014-15 academic year – its 10th since opening its doors in 2005 as the first new UC campus in 40 years.

“We begin the year with our strongest class of incoming freshmen and the largest and most diverse student body in our history,” said UC Merced Chancellor Dorothy Leland. “The hopes and aspirations of these talented young scholars serve as a poignant reminder of why UC Merced was established and the promise it holds for many generations to come.”

Plans to add additional facilities, both on and off campus, to accommodate 10,000 students by 2020 remain on track.
The freshman class of 2018 is expected to total approximately 1,550 students when the final tally is announced this fall, pushing total enrollment to about 6,360 students. That compares with total enrollment of 6,195 last year and just 875 in UC Merced’s inaugural year. Graduate students are expected to make up roughly 400 of the total, up from 358 in 2013-2014.

“We continue to see strong demand for admission from all over the state, despite an uneven rebound in the California economy,” Leland said.

“Our students enjoy the many benefits of a UC-caliber education in an intimate, personalized environment unlike any other in the UC system. It’s a formula that resonates with young men and women who want to be more involved in shaping their education and the campus they’ll call home for the next four years.”

Freshman Rebecca Verona, a Merced native, is one of the first students to major in public health at UC Merced.

“I came to UC Merced not only because it was close to home, but because it is a prestigious university that is known for its research opportunities,” she said. 

One such opportunity Verona took advantage of is the campus’s Summer Bridge program. She made some lasting friendships and got a jumpstart on her first year at UC Merced.

“I decided to join the program because I wanted to get ahead academically, and as an incoming freshman I wanted to get to know the school better,” Verona said. “Summer Bridge has given me several opportunities to get involved, and also gave me a familiarity with the campus and its resources.”

Once again this year, the size of the incoming class was somewhat limited by the amount of classroom, housing and administrative space available on campus, Leland said.

“Increasing capacity as rapidly and cost-effectively as possible continues to be one of our top priorities,” she said. “The opening this fall of Science and Engineering Building 2, which will add 102,000 square feet of space, will be enormously helpful.”

Plans to add additional facilities, both on and off campus, to accommodate 10,000 students by 2020 remain on track, she added.

Incoming freshman participated Tuesday in the bridge crossing, a symbol for the beginning of their UC Merced journey.

“A key element of our mission is to increase access to the UC system for all students who qualify,” said Leland. “We are pleased to see strong interest both from within the Valley, where historically low college-going rates are rising rapidly, and from virtually all other regions in the state.”

UC Merced continues to make hands-on research activity a fundamental part of the student experience, starting with freshman year, Leland said. Students work side-by-side with acclaimed faculty members on understanding and finding solutions to many of society’s most challenging problems, from chronic illness, health disparities and their environmental influences to rapidly changing economic, cultural and climate conditions in the Valley and around the world.

UC Merced faculty members attracted $13.7 million in research grants last year to support this activity, bringing the campus total since inception to more than $131 million.

“Many of society’s toughest problems exist in microcosm right here in the San Joaquin Valley, making it a rich environment for real-world research with global significance,” said Leland. “This emphasis on cutting-edge research is a hallmark of the UC system and the key to California’s prominence as a cradle of innovation, discovery and invention.”

As the campus begins its tenth academic year, its growing contributions are testament to the determination and creativity of the founding faculty and administrative team, many of whom remain on the job, and the strong support of the community, Leland said.

“It is humbling to think of the unwavering dedication of everyone involved with the university’s development since 2005, including our growing alumni base and incredibly generous benefactors,” she said. “I simply cannot imagine reaching this milestone without the commitment of so many who believed in our mission and helped give it life, for which all of us will be forever grateful.”

With a full schedule of classes beginning today and “to do” lists growing by the minute, the campus won’t take much time to celebrate the 10-year milestone.

“This will be a pivotal year in executing our physical growth plans and refining our strategic academic priorities for years to come,” Leland said. “We might pause for a brief moment of reflection when our first decade officially comes to a close next spring, but for now, our focus is squarely on the future.”

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