$1M price tag put on UC Merced graduation

MERCED — The cost for May's commencement at the University of California at Merced — with a keynote address by first lady Michelle Obama — finally has been tallied: $1,047,338.82.

Private contributions of more than $185,000 added to $500,000 in interest on a private endowment fund, managed by the UC Office of the President, have helped offset the cost.

The university will not use taxpayer money to pay the balance, UC Merced spokeswoman Patti Waid Istas said Thursday. Funding could come from donations, fund raising, interest from endowments and other sources, she said.

The original budget for the ceremony to commemorate the campus's first full, four-year graduating class was $100,000, campus officials said in the spring.

That was before Obama agreed to speak at the May 16 commencement, which drew about 12,000 people to the campus. No state money was used for the event, Istas said.

The first lady is not compensated for appearing at events, and UC Merced did not pay for Obama's travel or personal security, Istas said.

The university said it could not release the financial information until the end of its fiscal year. The 2009-10 fiscal year began Wednesday.

The university said almost half of the money for the ceremony went to Merced and Stanislaus county businesses.

Merced city spokesman Mike Conway said visitors left town with lighter wallets.

"The figure we are estimating is in the neighborhood of $1.5 million to the community," he said about the economic impact.

While the first lady's announcement came after application deadlines for the upcoming school year, Istas said the campus has seen a marked increase in the number of students touring campus this summer.

More than 1,000 media organizations ran reports on the graduation ceremony that weekend, Istas said.

"We jumped 10 years into the future when it comes to national and international visibility. Millions of dollars in advertising could not have accomplished as much," Chancellor Steve Kang said in a statement.

UC Merced opened in 2005 with 875 students. Officials expect 3,200 students on campus this fall.