Distinguished rankings, new academic offerings, world-class research and campus expansions were among the highlights of the UC Merced State of the University address delivered by Chancellor Juan Sánchez Muñoz.
"The state of this 20-year-old institution is unparalleled in the history of American higher education," said Muñoz. "And now I would like to invite you to join me in imagining an even more impactful future for our campus, faculty, staff and students."
Muñoz addressed the campus community and the public this week, highlighting the university's many achievements in the past year:
The university saw the highest rankings in its history this fall. U.S. News & World Report ranked UC Merced No. 60 overall in the nation, No. 28 among all public universities and No. 4 in the country for advancing students' social mobility. The Wall Street Journal ranked UC Merced ranked No. 15 among public universities in the country and No. 3 among California public institutions.
This year, the university admitted a record number of first-year and transfer students to claim a historically high enrollment of close to 9,200. The largest first-year class of 2,417 students comes almost entirely from California: more than 30 percent from the Central Valley, about 27 percent from the Bay Area and 26 percent from Southern California. Sixty percent of these students are Pell Grant-eligible and more than 62 percent are first-generation undergraduates.
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Among UC Merced's newest students are the first 15 in the B.S. to M.D. pathway. These students will pursue their undergraduate degrees and the first 18 months of their medical education on UC Merced's campus, and then complete their M.D.s at UCSF-Fresno. Each one is a native of the Central Valley - from Stockton to Bakersfield - familiar with the region and profoundly aware of its healthcare needs. The group represents a great diversity of backgrounds - some the children of physicians, some first-generation college students, some the children of recent immigrants and others of multi-generation Californians.
This spring, UC Merced hopes to break ground on a new medical education building - plans for which drew Gov. Gavin Newsom to campus to personally support, and to which the UC Board of Regents should give final approval in November.
Another groundbreaking will be held for a new intersegmental housing project - the Promise Housing - arising from the campus's Promise Program with Merced College, and now with several other colleges and districts. It will offer 488 new affordable beds to transfer students and those eligible for transfer, building a living-learning community for students with like pursuits.
Additionally, the university is planning for the Classroom and Office Building 3 to accommodate growth in academic programs.
New Academic Offerings
With recently approved majors such as chemical engineering, electrical engineering, bioengineering, environmental humanities and two tracks of data science, new emphases such as sociology's justice, law and society track and the astrophysics track in the physics department, UC Merced is leveraging the research strength and intellectual breadth of the faculty to attract new students and new faculty and to address even more of society's and the world's challenges. Muñoz applauded Professor Holly Moyes and the committee that helped lead the formation of the university's new Honors Program.
Admitting More Valley Students
UC Merced has expanded its automatic admissions programs to 18 Valley school districts, incorporating 60 high schools. These programs allow students who meet UC qualifications to be accepted to UC Merced without the full traditional application process. There are three Promise transfer programs with community colleges - in Merced, Fresno and Modesto - that facilitate transfers for those seeking to advance their associate's degrees to bachelor's or even doctorates.
Top-Tier Faculty and World-Class Research
In his address, Muñoz touted the distinguished faculty at UC Merced - applauding the 35 National Science Foundation CAREER Award recipients among faculty and the work of researchers including those at the Community and Labor Center and the Valley Institute for Sustainability, Technology and Agriculture (VISTA).
"Here in California's Central Valley, we are focused in both our research and our community engagement on the challenges that matter to our people: health care, affordable housing, farmworkers' well-being, public education, agriculture, water, fire and the environment," said Muñoz.
The university has been designated an Agricultural Experiment Station (AES), and the new experimental smart farm, just to the south of the main campus, is engaging faculty and students to find more efficient and effective ways of managing the crops that are the economic engine of the Central Valley. As part of the AES designation, UC Merced will receive annual support of $1.5 million from the state of California, as well as support from Hatch Act funds and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
UC Merced faculty members have received more than $91.1 million in external research funding this year. Eleven awards were for more than $1 million, including:
- $20 million from the Federal Economic Development Administration - Professor Joshua Viers
- $5.9 million from the California Department of Industrial Relations - Professor Mai Ka Yang
- $2.9 million from the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine - Professor Kara McCloskey
- $2.4 million from the National Science Foundation - Professor Michele Nishiguchi. This is the annual allocation from a $12 million grant she received last year.
This fall, UC Merced admitted its largest recruited class of student-athletes. The university is considering an invitation to join a NCAA DII conference. The decision will involve a number of critical conversations that will take place across the campus over the coming year, including with the faculty and staff. It would also require the formation of a governing committee, should the process move forward.
"UC Merced, though a mere two decades old, is taking its rightful place among the great institutions of this country," said Muñoz. "This comes from a clear vision for the future and sharing that vision with those who care to hear - of being first, moving further, and always driving forward."