Merced College and UC Merced have been named as Hispanic-serving agricultural institutions of higher education by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The designation guarantees federal funding and allows the schools to compete for grants with other qualifying colleges and universities.
"This is a big deal for us," said Ben Duran, president of Merced College. "This provides stability for us in those areas that we haven't had in the past."
Eleven colleges and universities in California have qualified -- 71 nationwide.
Duran said the dedicated funding and possible grants will make the college more accessible to Merced residents.
"It will allow us to offer classes to more students, and with the accompanying equipment and technology that goes along," he said. "It's going to allow us to put these people to work a lot faster than we have in the past."
The formula for Merced College's dedicated funding has not been released, according to college officials. The competitive grants are usually for about $300,000 to $500,000, for three to five years at a time, Duran said.
Samuel J. Traina, UC Merced vice chancellor for research, said the designation opens doors for the university, promising funding for research connected to California agriculture.
The USDA's announcement piggy-backs on previous designations by the U.S. Department of Education. Both UC Merced and Merced College were previously identified as Hispanic-serving institutions by the Education Department.
Merced College has a Latino population of about 45 percent, while about 37 percent of UC Merced's current undergraduate population is Latino.
Last year, Merced College awarded about 40 degrees and certifications in agricultural and agricultural-related programs.
About 96 undergraduate students received degrees for studies that can be directly applied to agriculture from UC Merced last year. The university doesn't offer an agricultural major.
Reporter Joshua Emerson Smith can be reach at (209) 385-2486 or firstname.lastname@example.org.