UC Merced takes admissions on the road

Credit: Veronica Adrover/UC Merced

University of California, Merced

Claudia Diaz will tell you that college changed her life. The Dinuba High School graduate played soccer at UC Merced, traveled to Mexico and Spain to train with professional teams, and graduated in four years.

Now she’s back in her hometown, coaching the freshman soccer team and teaching alternate seventh graders at Dinuba Unified. And she knows that her presence in the district is a powerful tool to encourage them to follow in her footsteps.

Dinuba High School and UC Merced graduate Claudia Diaz coaches an all-star football team in Lindsay, California in June.

“I feel like my students can see themselves because we come from the same humble backgrounds,” she said. “My parents are field workers – many of our students, their parents are field workers. … If I can do it, they can do it.”

And now there’s a new program that makes it easier for students to follow her to Merced.

Dinuba High School is the second school in the Central Valley to join Automatic Merced admission program. This means that students who earn a 3.5 GPA, take the required AG courses, and receive a grade of no worse than C will automatically be granted an on-campus freshman admissions process through a streamlined admissions process.

It started at Merced Union High School District in 2021, where the first cohort of students will attend UC Merced this fall.

Dustin Noji, the director of admissions, said 202 students applied to the program and 169 were eligible. Of these, 114 submitted a UC application and all were admitted.

“Hopefully a large proportion of students will enroll,” he said, “(but) we won’t have that information until September.”

The newest of UC’s nine undergraduate campuses, Merced is located in a rural area about 60 miles north of Fresno and about an hour and a half drive north of Dinuba. UC Merced’s campus is not dissimilar to Dinuba, surrounded by farming on the east side of the valley and offering views of the Sierra Nevada on a clear day.

And it’s ready for growth. Aside from being the only campus that offers automatic admission for freshmen, it is the only campus which accepts freshmen who were admitted to the University of California but did not get a spot on their preferred campus, according to UC Merced officials.

It is $1.2 billion expansioncompleted 2020, almost doubled the campus footprint. Enrollment was 9,093 as of fall 2021, and the strategic plan is to reach 15,000 by 2030, according to Noji.

According to Noji, UC Merced also has the highest acceptance rate of the nine campuses at 87% for fall 2021.

“We’re growing and expanding rapidly,” he said. “Our Campus 2020 project gives us the opportunity to enroll more students and so our campus is really in growth mode.”

Ashleigh Panoo

Dustin Noji, left, director of admissions at UC Merced, and Joe Hernandez, superintendent of the Dinuba Unified School District, make Merced’s automated admissions program official.

At Dinuba Unified, in the city of around 25,000 people, the vision is to “end generational poverty through education”.

Around 30% of people in Dinuba are considered poor, according to data from the US Census Bureau.

In recent years, about 80% of the students at Dinuba High could be classified as low-income by qualifying for free and discounted meals. About 23% learn the English language, by data from the California Department of Education.

Superintendent Joe Hernandez believes that graduates like Diaz, combined with this new program, will energize his students and fulfill the vision.

dr Joe, as the students call him, envisions cohorts of his students moving to UC Merced each year and becoming independent while still being able to return to their families.

“That’s new territory for kids to explore,” he said, “to be able to walk to a UC and still stay a reasonable distance.”

Hernandez, who grew up nearby, has been in the district for 14 years. Just in the last decade, he said, there’s been a major push to get students into college. The district even takes freshmen to tour UC Merced.

“We’re building that interest, building that pipeline,” he said.

About 400 students graduate from Dinuba High each year. Hernandez said he would call the program a success even with 20 to 25 students visit UC Merced in 2023. Because in a small community like Dinuba, he said, “the words come back.”

Hernandez said a group of students going to Merced is easier than one student going alone. “For me, this is something like my dream.”

For more reports like this, click here to sign up for EdSource’s free daily email on the latest in education.

Leave a Comment