Why UC Merced Is Not the “Dumb” University

University of California, Merced grants students opportunities that they wouldn’t find elsewhere.

UC Merced’s New Beginnings Statue as the sun sets (Zahn).

I am a white female attending a predominantly non-white university. I bet many university students can’t boast that. Only 10.2% of our students are white, while 53.3% are Hispanic or Latino and 4.6% are African American. An astounding 73.2% of our students are first generation, as well, and this number has been steadily climbing at an average rate of about 2% each year (“Student Data”).

In fact, University of California, Merced leads the UC system in terms of low-income students, first-generation students, and students from underrepresented ethnic groups. Our school was built on the idea that education should be accessible to all, including those who wouldn’t otherwise be capable of attending. While all UCs charge in the low- to mid-thirty thousands, UC Merced offers more financial aid to its students than any other UC, with 86% of the student population receiving financial aid, and the Blue and Gold Opportunity Plan offered for low-income families. UC-wide, only 42% of students receive the federal Pell Grant, while 60% of UC Merced students receive this form financial aid (“Accoundability Report”).

In just fourteen years since opening to its students, UC Merced has made groundbreaking research. It is our cornerstone, and even first-year students can be involved with the faculty in their research, present at conferences, and publish in journals. The number of research subjects is endless and encompasses all subjects: climate change and ecology; solar and renewable energy; water quality and resources; artificial intelligence; cognitive science; stem-cell, diabetes and cancer research; air quality; big-data analysis; computer science; mechanical, environmental and materials engineering; political science; and many more. The ability to integrate its students (at any stage in their education) in research projects makes UC Merced unique from its siblings.

In just fourteen years, UC Merced has managed to make it onto many of U.S. News’s lists for best colleges: #136 in National Universities; #43 in Best Undergraduate Teaching; #115 in Best Value Schools; #148 in High School Counselor Ratings; #67 in Top Public Schools; #167 in Best Undergraduate Engineering Programs; and this is only to state a few (“The Best Colleges”).

Yet students from other UCs ridicule those of us who chose to attend UC Merced. Perhaps they see our graduation rate flailing behind the other UCs (just under 40% for fourth-years, while the average is 62% UC-wide as of 2015) (“Accountability Report”). What is failed to be taken into account, however, is that a mere twenty (in some cases, just under twenty) years ago, all other UC graduation rates were near 40%. These percentages slowly increased before leveling out just before 2010. UC Merced’s graduation rate has been slowly increasing since its opening in 2005, indicating that we had the same start as any other UC in the system, but will eventually make our way to higher percentages of gradates at the fourth-year level, just as any other UC.

Another factor not taken into account is the glaring disparities between other UCs, which average at less than 30% Hispanic/Latino undergraduate enrollment and nearly 20% white undergraduate student enrollment (“Accountability Report”). We must recognize the gaps between opportunities afforded to white students: they are less likely to have financial hardships, familial hardships, health-related hardships, education-gap related hardships, etc. than non-white students. With the highest percentage of non-white students in the UC system, UC Merced opens its doors to students who would be most expected to fail, yet we’ve outperformed expectations in terms of graduation rates: U.S. News ranked us number two in outperforming graduation rate expectations. The makeup of our university suggests students who are fighting against stereotypes that they will not succeed simply because of race or class status, and we are performing far better than we have been expected to.

I attend classes with students who have come from hardships that most university students cannot say that they’ve experienced, and yet they still chose to pursue higher education. I am inspired when I walk across campus and see the beautiful makeup of our student body, and it makes me proud to see my friends trying to better their lives despite systematic oppression that has attempted to hold them back.

Perhaps we cannot say that we have the best graduation rates of all the UCs, or that we have the most students. We are slowly growing, and by 2020 we will have doubled our size from 2016, and our graduation rates are slowly climbing to meet those of the other UCs. We will continue to grow and thrive until other UCs and publications and journalists will respect our university and recognize that we have achieved this despite pressures from society attempting to hold us back. We have a richly diverse community and we learn from one another as well as from our professors; our students are the heart and soul of UC Merced, and I am proud to say that I am a Bobcat.

“Accountability Report 2015.” University of California | 1: Undergraduate Admissions and Enrollment, accountability.universityofcalifornia.edu/2015/.

“Student Data.” Student Data | Institutional Research and Decision Support, irds.ucmerced.edu/student-data.

“The Best Colleges in America, Ranked.” U.S. News & World Report, U.S. News & World Report, www.usnews.com/best-colleges.

Zahn, Amy. “State Assembly Member Proposes Tech-Savvy UC Campus.” Highlander, 10 Mar. 2015, highlandernews.org/17066/assemblyman-mike-gatto-d-glendale-has-proposed-a-bill-to-create-an-11th-uc-campus-geared-toward-science-technology-engineering-arts-and-mathematics-steam-despite-general-concerns-about-the-uni/.