BY NATHAN BROSTROM
DECEMBER 06, 2019 06:00 AM
UC Merced Interim Chancellor Nathan Brostrom. ELENA ZHUKOVA SPECIAL TO THE SUN-STAR
Thirty years ago, The Fresno Bee celebrated the long overdue decision to build a University of California campus in the Central Valley. “What a prize,” read the Bee editorial that predicted “thousands of new jobs (and) a boon to the local economy.”
Another decade passed before groundbreaking, and the worst recession since the Great Depression followed. From the start, UC Merced faced challenges that, to some, seemed insurmountable.
What a difference a few years and strong leadership by my predecessor, Dorothy Leland, have made. Today, UC Merced is marking its 14th year — and living up to the Bee’s predictions.
The youngest campus in the nation’s finest public higher research institution, UC Merced — the only U.S. research university built in the 21st century — is already ranked by U.S. News & World Report as the 44th best public institution in the country and No. 1 for student outcomes, a ranking that includes creating social mobility for our students, 99.5 percent of whom hail from California.
These are significant achievements, but I am most proud of what they reflect about California, and the Valley in particular.
The Morrill Act, signed by President Abraham Lincoln to create “land grant” institutions like the University of California, had three critical goals: to educate citizens from all walks of life, not just the elite; to advance research into cutting-edge economic needs of the day; and to stay closely tied to the regions they serve.
UC Merced adheres to these principles.
We are educating California’s emerging citizenry, many more of whom hail from the Valley.
We are driving the local economy through cutting-edge research in the fields of our day. Breakthroughs in drone technology and smart watering systems will make our agricultural sector more efficient and more profitable; our new Bio Safety 3 Lab will tackle the harmful effects of Valley fever; and our Venture Lab in downtown Merced, partnering with the city and the Small Business Administration, guides aspiring entrepreneurs from idea to marketplace.
And we remain committed to the Valley, working closely with city and county governments, schools, and health and other social service organizations.
After state cuts stalled the initial phase of campus construction, UC Merced created a first-of-its-kind-in-the-nation public-private partnership — Merced 2020 — to double its footprint and provide the laboratories, classrooms, housing and other services needed to expand its education, economic and research impact. UC Merced now employs more than 1,600 full- and part-time employees, with a monthly payroll of more than $16 million. By completion next summer, Merced 2020 will have created 10,000 construction jobs in the Valley and injected $1.9 billion into the regional economy.
Governing magazine recently cited UC Merced as a major reason the Merced metro area experienced the top personal income growth of any region since 2012. And a 2018 academic study affirmed that “the opening of UC Merced has generated positive effects on employment and the wages of workers in Merced” and significantly expanded the local service industry.
The benefits will accrue over generations, as graduates reap the benefits of a UC education. Multiple studies confirm that a worker with a bachelor’s degree earns more than double over her or his lifetime than a worker with only a high school diploma, and is far less likely to experience unemployment during tough times. UC Merced’s high marks for creating social mobility are thus easily explained, given that nearly three-quarters of our undergraduates are the first in their families to go to college.
We know we aren’t doing this alone. Alongside Fresno State, Stanislaus State, CSU Bakersfield, Merced College, Modesto Junior College, Fresno City College and Clovis Community College, and many others, we have created a great economic engine in the Valley — second, perhaps, only to our mighty agricultural industry.
Valley agriculture fills the bellies of the world, and Valley higher education is shaping the minds of the next generation. Together we are truly building the future right here in the heart of California — the emerging, new California.