UC Merced enrollment rises by 11%, count shows

Space crunch forces officials to limit undergrads

09/27/2012 11:46 PM

09/28/2012 10:42 AM

UC Merced's official census count showed a total enrollment of 5,760 students this fall, according to numbers released Thursday, an almost 11 percent increase compared with last fall's enrollment of 5,198.

Officials said limited campus space forced them to curb undergraduate enrollment growth.

J. Michael Thompson, assistant vice chancellor for enrollment management, said the university has been able to accommodate the students as it waits for additional space to become available.

The fall enrollment number means several things for UC Merced, Thompson said, including "the understanding of people across the state of California is that the quality education that's available at UC Merced continues to grow."

The enrollment increase helps make the case for the state to continue to fund the young campus. It also means the university has resources to hire additional faculty and expand its academic efforts, Thompson said.

UC Merced continues to meet its mission of providing opportunities for students in the state, especially in the San Joaquin Valley, he said. About 31 percent of the campus' students come from the Central Valley, 28 percent come from Southern California and 21 percent are from the Bay Area.

More than 97 percent of students at UC Merced are state residents, Thompson said.

Graduate students enrolled at UC Merced this semester total 329, according to data. That's a 26.5 percent jump compared with last fall.

One of the approaches UC Merced took last year to help attract more graduate students was to invite its best applicants to visit campus, said Chris Kello, acting dean of graduate studies.

Prospective students got the opportunity to see the campus and meet students, which officials believe played a role in the university's graduate enrollment increase.

Individual programs may have done this previously, Kello said, but last year was the first time the entire campus tried that strategy.

Most of UC Merced's graduate students are pursuing their doctoral degrees, Kello said. At research universities like UC Merced, they typically are supported with teaching assistantships, research assistantships and fellowships, among other possibilities.

UC Merced offers a blend of the three, Kello said, and it varies by program and student.

One of UC Merced's goals is for graduate enrollment to reach 10 percent of the total student population by 2020, according to officials. Today, graduate students account for almost 6 percent.

A population of 10 percent graduate students is considered a minimum for research universities, Kello said.

Under supervision from faculty, graduate students are usually conducting research and overseeing undergraduate students, he said.

"Graduate students are really the heart of the research activity," he said. "Often the graduate students are the ones who are in the labs doing a lot of the work on the day-to-day basis."

Reporter Yesenia Amaro can be reached at (209) 385-2482 or yamaro@mercedsunstar.com.

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