Program to Boost Newest UC Campus

    High school students who recently received rejection letters from UCSD may still have an opportunity to attend the university ­- if they agree to attend UC Merced first.

    In order to improve enrollment numbers, UC Merced is launching the Shared Experience program, which will offer 1,000 applicants the opportunity to attend one of four UC campuses – UC Berkeley, UC Irvine, UCLA or UCSD – provided that they first spend two years at the Central Valley campus.

    The Shared Experience program will attempt to disperse and regulate overwhelming enrollment growth, after universities within the UC system saw a record-breaking 110,994 applications this year,

    “”We’re a growing campus, and we have space here,”” UC Merced Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Jane Lawrence said. “”It’s advantageous to the system, it’s advantageous to the students and it’s advantageous to UC Merced.””

    While students in the program are well-qualified applicants, meeting the university’s “”a-g”” eligibility requirements and often graduating in the top 12.5 percent of their class, they are often rejected from their first-choice schools on relatively minor grounds.

    “”Some campuses don’t have room for all qualified applicants and those they deny are often very, very high-achieving students,”” UC Director of Policy and External Affairs Nina Robinson said in an e-mail. “”The applicants who have been offered Shared Experience from UCSD, UC Berkeley, UC Irvine and UCLA are in this group – all of them just narrowly missed admission at one or more of those campuses.””

    Administrators hope that a significant portion of students in the program will want to stay at UC Merced after their first two years of study, even if given the option of leaving.

    “”Students make friends, form relationships with faculty, get involved in undergraduate research and become part of the life on that campus,”” Lawrence said. “”They become happy with where they are.””

    UCSD Assistant Vice Chancellor of Admissions and Registration Mae W. Brown said she shares Lawrence’s anticipation that students will change their initial intent to transfer and decide to stay at UC Merced.

    “”I believe that UC Merced staff and faculty will do everything possible to make the Shared Experience program as successful as possible,”” Brown said in an e-mail. “”We don’t expect to see a significant increase in the number of students transferring.””

    Shared Experience is modeled after a similar program created in the 1980s, which boosted UC Santa Cruz’s enrollment figures when some students were promised subsequent admission to UC Berkeley. Approximately 50 percent of these students ended up staying at UC Santa Cruz.

    “”Based on our retention rate of more than 80 percent, I am confident that a substantial number of students participating in the Shared Experience program will choose to remain here,”” UC Merced Chancellor Steve Kang said in a press release.

    However, the Shared Experience program is not yet permanent, and the exact retention rate figures cannot accurately be predicted.

    “”This is a pilot program, to see if it is successful and how well students respond,”” Lawrence said. “”It’s not a program that’s going to be in existence forever – it’s in response to the bumper crop of applicants.””

    According to the UC Merced Office of Communications, the three-year-old university has 1,286 students enrolled.

    However, the newest UC campus is striving to set its standards on par with older campuses within the system by offering more majors this year than it has ever had, as well as guaranteed housing.

    “”There are wonderful opportunities for students at UC Merced,”” Lawrence said. “”We have all of the UC programs and activities, including UCDC, education abroad and student government.””

    Administrators at UC Merced said they are unfazed by the currently low number of applicants, and are confident in the university’s ability to attract more students as it grows.

    “”UC Merced’s low enrollment numbers are fully expected, given that the campus is so new – many people don’t even know it’s there and few have ever visited the campus or known people who went there,”” Robinson said.

    Furthermore, the four universities participating in the program have the capacity to support students who intend to transfer after completing their required time at UC Merced.

    “”The campuses would not have gone into Shared Experience without believing that they could accommodate and provide a quality experience,”” Lawrence said. “”The transfer issues are simple, and there’s good communication within the system to ensure the ease of the program’s implementation.””

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