Merced is home once again to two schools that have been designated Hispanic-serving institutions.
Merced College and UC Merced are two of the 97 nationwide that fit into the Hispanic-Serving Agricultural Colleges and Universities parameters, a U.S. Department of Agriculture designation. This and other designations like it are important because they make the schools eligible for more federal money.
The schools are still waiting to see exactly how much the relatively new agricultural designation will pay off.
“We’re kind of all waiting because we don’t know what the formula is going to be,” said Cherie Davis, director of grants and institutional research at Merced College. “The other part is Congress has passed it, but they haven’t appropriated funds to it.”
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The U.S. Department of Education and Department of Agriculture use their designations to help bolster the number of Latinos graduating from college and those going into the agricultural workforce, respectively. Davis said those are areas where they are underrepresented.
UC Merced and Merced College exceed the requirements for the agricultural designation: At least 25 percent of the full-time student enrollment at each is Hispanic, each offers accredited agriculture-related programs and Hispanic students receive at least 15 percent of the degrees awarded in agriculture-related programs over the two most recently completed academic years.
Merced College’s student enrollment is 53 percent Latino.
“Ag is really big in this area and we want this designation, and hopefully the funding that follows, (to) help us develop professionals and leaders to bring us into the next few decades,” Davis said.
The community college handed out 62 degrees and certificates related to agriculture and natural resources in 2013. The school also receives money through a collaborative $2.5 million grant shared with California State University, Stanislaus – another Hispanic-serving school.
UC Merced is the only the campus in the University of California system to receive the Department of Agriculture’s designation. The Latino population on the campus rates at 44 percent.
Scott Hernandez-Jason, UC Merced director of news and social media, said the Department of Education designation is critical for grants and other funding for varying purposes, like student support services, faculty development, scientific and laboratory equipment, and renovation of instructional facilities.
UC Merced received a $2.2 million grant that required the designation late last year from the Department of Education. The program supports transfer students.
Hernandez-Jason said the school has programs like the Fiat Lux Scholars Program, geared toward first-generation college students, to help students of any ethnicity succeed.
Though UC Merced does not offer an agricultural major, other degrees can be applied directly to the industry.