Merced County Times Newspaper
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Merced College enrollment rebounds as new academic year begins

Merced College enrollments are on the rise.

Like most community colleges throughout the state, Merced College saw significant enrollment decline during the COVID-19 pandemic; that tide has turned. After a slight uptick in Fall 2022 and a record-high count in Summer 2023, Merced College is entering the 2023-24 year with its highest student enrollment since before the pandemic.

Fall 2023 enrollment is at 10,378 total students, a 12.4 percent increase over Fall 2022 and the highest mark since Fall 2019.

Students are also taking more units. In terms of full-time equivalent students (FTES) — a figure calculated using the total number of units taken by students, which is used to determine state funding for colleges — Merced College shows a 23 percent increase from Fall 2022 to Fall 2023.

“The pandemic hit a lot of colleges hard, and we were no exception,” Merced College President Chris Vitelli said. “To see our enrollment numbers rebound in such a big way is both gratifying and encouraging. This growth is testament to the hard work of so many: our faculty and counselors, who are so instrumental to the success and persistence of our students; our marketing and outreach teams, who tirelessly spread the word about all the great things Merced College has to offer; and most importantly, our students, who routinely demonstrate their resilience and a commitment to furthering their education and advancing their careers.”

The pandemic forced all instruction online, and even as students returned to campus, the majority have opted for online classes. That is changing this year, as a roughly even number of students are choosing online and in-person classes in Fall 2023.

The college is moving forward with new online programs, as well. “Merced College Online” offers four degrees that can be obtained entirely online, and each is a transfer degree that allows students to move on pursue bachelor’s and higher degrees at four-year universities. Merced College Online offers degrees in Administration of Justice, Business Administration, Early Childhood Education, and Psychology.

“The lesson we’ve learned the past few years is twofold: First, online instruction is here to stay; and second, different students have different needs, and there will always be a large segment of students who benefit from in-person classes,” said Karissa Morehouse, Vice President of Instruction. “Our job is to ensure every student has what they need to succeed, and that means being as creative and flexible as possible in how we offer course instruction.”


Planning, Innovation and Growth

The 2023-24 year marks the start of a new chapter for Merced College, which recently completed the development of its new five-year Educational Master Plan (EMP). The EMP, which was created through a collaborative and participatory process and ultimately approved by the Board of Trustees in June, establishes an overarching vision and guides the college’s growth over the next five years.

The district is now working on its Strategic Implementation Plan (SIP), which details the operational tasks and activities that will support the strategies and goals outlined in the EMP.

“Our Educational Master Planning Committee did an outstanding job gathering input from all stakeholder groups and developing a bold, innovative path for Merced College,” said Mike McCandless, Vice President of Student Services. “We are grateful to our Board of Trustees for their support and for helping to establish the vision that our EMP and SIP seek to realize.”

Meanwhile, the vision for the college’s Los Banos Campus is already coming to fruition. After celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2021 and holding its first-ever commencement ceremony in May 2023, the Los Banos Campus is adding a pair of new programs this fall — agriculture and child development — and is also adding an outdoor gym, a new café, and a new Child Development Center to help provide a more robust and complete educational experience for Westside students.

A new café is also opening in the Downey Learning Resource Center on the Merced campus, and a full slate of athletics and arts events are planned throughout the 2023-24 academic year. Behind the scenes, work is ongoing toward renewing the college’s accreditation through the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges.

The college is also continuing its focus on employee engagement, happiness and well-being. The popular Well-Being Institute, which teaches local community members about resilience, mindfulness, gratitude, sleep, exercise and nutrition, is now being offered to all Merced College employees over the next two years.

The college celebrated the start of the new year with its annual Convocation event for faculty and staff on Aug. 11. In an annual tradition, several awards were presented during the Convocation program:

  • Manager of the Year: Dee Sigismond
  • Classified Professional of the Year: Christine Grimaldi-Clarkson
  • Distinguished Full-Time Faculty Member: Maria Albert
  • Distinguished Part-Time Faculty Member: Leigh-Ann Thornhill
  • President’s Blue and Gold Award: Office of External Relations

Enrollment for the Fall 2023 semester is still open. Go online to:

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