Dear Hechinger Report editor,
Matt Krupnick’s recent article about UC Merced’s development since opening in 2005 (“ A new university whose debut probably could not have come at a worse time ,” August 24) correctly observes that growth has been slowed somewhat by one of the worst recessions in state history, but we take issue with many other aspects of his reporting. His unbalanced story misrepresents the university’s progress to date and ignores the many contributions we are making to address poverty, unemployment, educational underattainment and other pressing problems that have burdened the San Joaquin Valley for decades.
For example, the article states that campus enrollment will fall well short of its “original goal” of 20,000 students by 2020, as compared with a current enrollment of 6,600 students. This “fact” serves as the basis of his assertion that student demand has been lackluster. Neither assertion is true. Our publicly available and original Long-Range Development Plan didn’t call for 20,000 students until well into the 2030s. Meanwhile, demand for enrollment has increased rapidly as the campus has begun to mature, with a growth rate in applications last year that was the highest in the UC system -- double the system average. Enrollment growth is constrained only by our ability to add facilities fast enough to meet it, not by lack of interest.
The article also observes, without offering any evidence, that the emergence of online education has undermined the university’s ability to attract students. We are not seeing this at any level. Our record levels of applications – and that of the UC system as a whole – confirm that today’s students are just as interested as ever in a full college experience that can only be attained at a physical campus. In point of fact, applications from the San Joaquin Valley to the UC system as a whole have doubled since UC Merced opened its doors.
Finally, we strongly reject the author’s assertion that UC Merced has not yet begun to benefit the local economy or help with economic revitalization. As evidence, we note that the university has already created thousands of permanent jobs, invested $1.3 billion in the regional economy, made more than $180 million in research expenditures, and produced more than 4,000 new graduates. Many of these graduates are starting businesses or preparing for careers in fields vital to the region’s long-term health. These investments, and their beneficial ripple effects, will continue to grow significantly as the campus expands. Only a physical presence in the region can make that happen.
We readily acknowledge that our first decade has been more fiscally challenging than anyone predicted, given the state’s economic struggles during our formative years. But the lesson we’ve learned from that is to become even more resilient and creative in delivering value to the region and the state. Ten years in, we already know our mission is making an important difference in a region our state can no longer afford to leave behind.