Space limits have effect on UC Merced enrollment

There will be fewer open seats for the record number of applicants hoping to get into UC Merced in the fall, and that will likely hold true for the next few years, administrators say.

According to numbers released Friday by the University of California Office of the President, undergraduate applications to UC Merced for fall 2014 hit 17,469, a 1.6 percent increase compared with last fall. However, space constraints will limit the university’s total enrollment increase to 165 more students than last year at the same time, or up to about 6,360.

J. Michael Thompson, associate vice chancellor for enrollment management, said he expects to increase enrollment by 300 in 2015 and 2016. The increases would be modest compared with about a decade of fast-paced growth.

“The campus will begin to grow significantly again when we get to the end of the result of the Project 2020 effort,” Thompson said.

UC Merced officials have a goal, dubbed Project 2020, of reaching 10,000 students by 2020 with 1,000 at the graduate level. Officials have also 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.

Overall, 15,264 freshmen applied for admission, which is a 2 percent increase from fall 2013. Transfer applications remained steady at 2,205 this year, 20 fewer than the previous year.

Thompson said more applications for fewer spots means competition is greater. He said some areas of campus will likely feel some ripple effects.

“With slowing the growth, we’re not able to offer some of the (enrollment) opportunities to some of the students who were offered an opportunity in the past,” Thompson said. “So that’s a community or statewide impact.”

About 28.9 percent of the applications came from the Los Angeles area, 21.8 percent from the Central Valley and 25.1 percent from the San Francisco Bay Area. Those numbers are relatively typical, administrators said.

Adding fewer students means the money from the state will not jump the way it has in the past decade. However, students can expect class sizes to stay on an even keel.

Last fall, the campus welcomed its largest class of incoming freshmen, 1,653. The coming year’s freshman class is expected to be about 1,440, or about as many as the 2009 freshman class of 1,442.

The campus is moderating undergraduate enrollment growth to keep pace with construction of more classrooms, laboratories and housing. Construction of Science and Engineering Building 2 is on track to open this fall, administrators said.

The school got funding for the Classroom and Office Building 2 last May, and construction began in the fall. The building is scheduled to open in spring 2016, administrators say. The Student Services Building opened in the fall, adding space for lectures and classes.

“We’ve strategically and decisively slowed our enrollment growth until our physical space can keep up with the continued interest in the campus,” Chancellor Dorothy Leland said in a news release.

Again this year, the campus leads the UC system in applicants who from low-income households, with 57 percent eligible for Pell Grants, and the share whose parents didn’t receive a four-year degree at 65 percent.

The campus will enter its third year offering the Gateway Scholarship of up to $2,000 for as many as 30 Merced High School students who chose to attend UC Merced, administrators said. The funds come from an anonymous donor, and administrators say they are in discussions to open that scholarship to other area high schools.

This week, Leland was part of a summit at the White House that brought together about 140 college and university presidents and leaders from nonprofits, foundations, state governments and businesses from across the country. The meeting was meant to look at ways to increase higher education opportunities for low-income students.

Leland announced six new initiatives to increase opportunities in Merced, including adding money to programs for undocumented students, a program to put UC Merced students into internships in Silicon Valley and to the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Math) Center on campus.

“Our growth reflects strong demand and increasing awareness of UC Merced as an excellent choice for students throughout the state who seek a UC-quality education in a small-campus environment,” Leland said in a news release.

Applications to the UC system as a whole were up nearly 5 percent from last year. Of the 183,272 high school seniors and transfer students showing interest, applications from the Central Valley region held at 7 percent.