Dorothy Leland: Growing campus seeks solutions

August 4, 2012 

In just a few weeks, UC Merced will begin its eighth academic year with a record enrollment of some 5,600 students and a sparkling campus that has earned extensive national acclaim for its environmentally sensitive development and operation.

The university's progress, achieved during extremely difficult economic circumstances, is a testament to the spirit and ingenuity of its faculty and staff and to the support of the regional community that welcomed us here. Together, we are gradually beginning to reverse a legacy of educational underachievement and economic stagnation that has plagued the San Joaquin Valley and its residents for decades.

As I begin my second year as UC Merced's chancellor, I marvel at the hard work and dedication that has gotten us to this point despite the state's severe budget cutbacks.

But I must also think about the next phase of growth and the likelihood that state financing for future campus development will remain uncertain for some time.

With a projected enrollment of 10,000 students within eight to 10 years, UC Merced faces daunting financial challenges in meeting campus development needs beyond the current "golf course footprint." These challenges not only include the scarcity of capital dollars from the state but also significant infrastructure and mitigation costs. Thus, the continued growth of UC Merced in the constrained resource environment we face today requires us to consider development alternatives that potentially do not require significant infrastructure investment, that may reduce mitigation costs, that leverage creative financing options and that complement and support the university's academic and research missions.

To help us with this exercise, we've asked the Urban Land Institute, a nonprofit land-use and planning organization, to assist in identifying and evaluating a range of development scenarios, including the feasibility of accommodating additional research, administrative and service functions at off-campus locations where infrastructure and other public services are already in place. The ULI advisory services team will include leading experts from across the United States in fields ranging from urban planning to capital finance.

This fall, representatives of ULI will meet with university leadership and individuals within the greater Merced area to explore possibilities and develop proposals the university will then evaluate. We hope this exercise will allow the university to identify the most feasible path for providing the facilities needed to reach a projected enrollment of 10,000 students within eight to 10 years.

UC Merced's reputation for academic excellence and its positive economic impact have grown significantly since it first opened its doors to students. We are extremely encouraged by the record levels of student interest in attending UC Merced and look forward to welcoming the Class of 2016, our largest freshman class ever, on Aug. 23. We also expect to have our largest cohort of graduate students this fall.

We remain as committed as ever to our mission of bringing UC-caliber education and vitally important research to the San Joaquin Valley, and we deeply value the community support that makes it all possible.

Leland is chancellor of UC Merced.

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