UC Merced enrollment passes the 6,000-student mark

tmiller@mercedsunstar.comOctober 1, 2013 

— After receiving a record number of applications for the fall semester, UC Merced has surpassed the 6,000-student mark.

UC Merced’s enrollment grew by 7percent to a total of 6,195 students on the 8-year-old campus, according to fall census numbers released Tuesday.

“We’ve seen an increase in interest in the campus,” said J. Michael Thompson, associate vice chancellor for enrollment management. “Our increase in applications this year was 16.2percent.”

Officials evaluated 18,115 applications, and enrolled 1,757 undergraduate students for the fall semester. The freshman class jumped by nearly 11percent to 1,654. Thompson said the university had the second-largest increase in freshman applications in the University of California system.

Thompson attributed the increased interest in UC Merced to its academic offerings and the staff’s dedication to serve students. He said the Students First Center – a one-stop shop for questions about admission, financial aid, registration and billing – plays a large role in that service.

“One of the things that happens here is we answer the telephone,” Thompson said. “It’s increasingly less true at universities across America.”

As the smallest campus in the system, UC Merced can provide students a chance for more face-to-face time with instructors than its much larger counterparts, Thompson said.

To try to accommodate its growth, the campus added new housing and dining options, including the five-story residence hall called Half Dome. About 2,100 students live on campus. Six new food venues are available to students, faculty and staff.

Half of the new Student Services Building is now in use – all classrooms, Thompson said. The office space and other areas in the building are expected to be available in January.

The school has more women – at 50.9percent – for the first time since its opening year in 2005. The largest identified ethnic group at the campus is Latino (42.1percent), followed by Asian (24.4percent), white (16.6percent) and black (6percent).

About 62percent of the students come from families in which neither parent has a four-year degree, and an equal percentage receives Federal Pell Grants.

Thompson said 19percent of UC Merced graduates go on to graduate school. That number is comparable to UC Berkeley, he said.

At the graduate level, the campus saw a 9percent increase. There are 358 graduate students enrolled this semester.

UC Merced officials have a goal of reaching 10,000 students by 2020, with 1,000 at the graduate level. Officials have proposed consolidating some of the university’s support staff to a single downtown Merced location, reducing travel and public safety costs. The roughly 1,000 staff members could double as the university grows.

“We want to be a research-intensive institution in a mid-size university,” Thompson said.

After years of fast-paced growth, Thompson said, UC Merced is poised to slow down while the facilities catch up. He said fewer freshman will be admitted next year, increasing the total student population to about 6,360.

About 37percent of all undergraduate students at UC Merced are from the Central Valley, 34percent from the greater Los Angeles area and 27percent from the Central Coast and Bay Area. About 98percent of students come from within the state.

Chancellor Dorothy Leland said the school occupies a valuable spot in the state’s higher education system.

“The numbers show that UC Merced is playing an important role in the San Joaquin Valley and the state of California,” Leland said in a news release, “by creating access to an excellent research university.”

Sun-Star staff writer Thaddeus Miller can be reached at (209)385-2453 or tmiller@mercedsunstar.com.

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