This week, UC Merced made the top 100 of U.S. News & World Report’s ranking of the top national universities — placing 97th overall and 40th among public institutions in all of America.
The good news is just the latest in a string of accomplishments that stand strong against this year’s ever-present and deadly pandemic that has shutdown in-person instruction.
“While 2020 has been a difficult year in so many ways, we nevertheless have seen record enrollment and our research increasingly is recognized by the National Science Foundation and other funding agencies,” said UC Merced Chancellor Juan Sánchez Muñoz. “We are proud to join our sister UC campuses as the best of the best of higher education in America.”
After four years of construction which doubled the size of the campus, and the exciting development of new educational spaces, the $1.3 billion UC Merced 2020 Project has been completed.
There are new classrooms, student wellness and counseling facilities, student housing, recreational areas, and more space for research. The additions to the campus will help the university move forward from its current student population of approximately 9,000 to its 2030 goal of 15,000 students.
“To be able to build a huge project on time and on budget was an incredible accomplishment,” said Charles Nies, UC Merced Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs. “In developing the campus, we looked at how we are going to help support the creation and awarding of degrees. The governor recently talked about the number of degrees that need to be increased to meet workforce demands. We’re partnering with other institutions of higher education to work collaboratively to award those bachelor’s degrees and keep the graduates in the Central Valley workforce in conjunction with our goal to have 15,000 students.
“The 2020 Project built 13 structures, including an eight-lane competitive swimming pool, in a short period of time, which added opportunities for students for learning and research and enhanced the student life experience. The idea of being able to build all those spaces somewhat simultaneously was the best way to grow the university to achieve significantly more student enrollment.
“Our large research building, which is home to one of the largest infectious disease research labs in the State of California, is in the fit-out stage, which means we are installing all the equipment and instruments that will be needed inside the lab spaces. We hope to have the entire building up and running in January 2021.
“The lab aims to help solve some of the health-related concerns in the Central Valley, as well as around the world. They’re looking at Valley Fever, melanoma, antibiotic resistance, HIV/AIDS, malaria and other mosquito-transmitted viruses, and different ways we might be able to do more rapid COVID-19 testing.
“The competitive swimming pool which will be used not only for swimming, but also for water polo, will hopefully be able to host youth tournaments and promote Merced and its local aquatic talent.
U. S News & World Report
Nies told the Times, “In determining the rankings, they looked at a whole host of things — quality of teaching including engagement in the classroom, graduation rates, affordability of the campus, alumni support, research that the faculty is doing, and grants the faculty is bringing in.
“One of the things I’m excited about is that as a research university, we rank really high for the number of undergraduate students doing research with the faculty.
“We have connected research, teaching and public service and made it an integrated service, and I think this is being reflected in our rankings.
“We have designed classroom space to deliver instruction in a way that supports student learning. For example, instead of huge lecture halls, we have 100 students in a room together and there are 10 students sitting at a table with a computer and they’re doing project-based learning.
“I think part of what we’re seeing in our rankings is that attention to not just doing research, but linking the creation of knowledge to how students learn the knowledge and then how the students take their knowledge and talent and go out into the community and apply the learning through public service to do good work.”
The campus was ranked No. 1 among public universities in outperforming expected graduation rates.
Nies explained, “We have a large group of first generation college students, and we are being acknowledged for graduation rate; we know that part of that is they find meaning in their education because they are able to go into the community and do good volunteer work.”
UC Merced ranked No. 5 in social mobility.
Nies told the Times, “The University of California consistently gets ranked really high for its financial aid support, and UC Merced got ranked in the top five overall for social mobility.
“In the top five campuses in the country for social mobility, the UC held four of those top five positions.
“The UC really supports students with financial aid. All nine campuses contribute 30% of all the money we collect in tuition, and it gets disbursed back to the campuses to support the students. It helps campuses to meet students’ financial needs. Partnering with the State of California through the Cal Grant program is an important contribution, as well.”
To determine which schools successfully combine quality and affordability, Money weighed more than 20,000 data points; among those were tuition fees, family borrowing, and career earnings.
According to Money’s 2020 Best Colleges rankings by value, UC Merced is one of the nation’s best four-year universities for quality, affordability and alumni outcomes.
In its debut on the list, UC Merced placed No. 76 out of 739 schools that met Money’s criteria for evaluation.
UC Merced is also one of Money’s 2020 Most Transformative colleges, meaning its students beat the statistics because they came from backgrounds where kids didn’t usually go to college.
Nies told the Times, “We surpassed some of the national statistic expectations. The university ranked No. 12 on this list, higher than any other University of California campus.
“If a student comes to me, I do not refer them to an office. I refer them to a person in an office to help support the student’s goals and needs and enhance their journey. There are many such campus pieces that build the strong community that supports the students.”
Washington Monthly evaluated 1,469 public and private colleges nationally and ranked the four-year schools based on their contribution to the public good in three broad categories: Social mobility, research, and providing opportunities for public service.
It also ranked Best Bang for the Buck colleges, which help non-wealthy students obtain marketable degrees at affordable prices.
According to Washington Monthly magazine, UC Merced is one of the best universities for research and civic engagement at an affordable price and for promoting upward mobility.
It is ranked No. 56 out of the 389 four-year universities that appear on Washington Monthly’s new 2020 College Guide and Rankings.
UC Merced is No. 19 for social mobility, based on the school’s eight-year graduation rate and its success in graduating low-income students.
Nies explained, “Civic engagement is volunteer work where students think about their role in the community, and we have a large percentage of students who do that work. It’s a community engaged university environment. The faculty is grounded in research that helps the community, and our students are following their lead.
“The financial aid we offer is the best bang for the buck aspect.”
Times Higher Education
Times Higher Education World University Rankings is an annual publication of university rankings by Times Higher Education magazine. Its list ranks the world’s best universities that are 50 years old or younger.
Out of the 414 universities evaluated, UC Merced ranked No. 65 overall.
The university debuted in the national rankings last year, placing No. 4 among young U.S. universities. The ranking weighs teaching, research, citations, international outlook and industry income of qualifying universities.
This year, UC Merced rose from No. 4 to No. 3 among U.S. universities in the 2020 Times Higher Education Young University Rankings.
Nies told the Times, “We’re growing as a university while being a student-centered research university. Our faculty members are doing incredible research, being published and cited all over.
“Some of our faculty members who excel in research are Asmeret Berhe in Biology who is doing work in soil and climate change, Leroy Westerling in Environmental Science who studied fire and fire ecology, and Roland Winston in Mechanical Engineering who has the most patents on solar technology of anybody in the U.S. These brilliant minds are doing all this research while being committed to teaching, as well. That research piece is why we’re recognized, while we still focus on the undergraduate learning experience and the students are simultaneously engaged in the student research piece as well, and we’re continuing to do that even at a young age.”