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UC Merced Among Top Schools in US For Leadership in College Access, Success

May 23, 2023
Students show off their Bobcat pride. Image by Sam Yniguez.

Bloomberg Philanthropies has recognized the University of California, Merced, as an American Talent Initiative (ATI) High-Flier, among a group of 28 high-graduation-rate institutions that are national leaders in college access and success for lower-income students.

UC Merced received the distinction for its high Pell share and innovative recruitment, enrollment and retention practices. Over the next year, ATI and Bloomberg Philanthropies will work with High-Fliers to amplify what they have learned to other four-year colleges and universities across the nation.

An initiative led by Bloomberg Philanthropies in partnership with Aspen Institute’s College Excellence Program and Ithaka S+R, ATI serves as a growing nationwide alliance of high-graduation-rate colleges and universities grounded in the belief that they can collectively expand access for tens of thousands of high-achieving, lower-income students. By doing so, these institutions are increasing socioeconomic diversity within their respective student communities.

"The economic fallout from the pandemic has made it even more important for schools across the country to adopt innovative new ways to attract and retain students from under-represented backgrounds," said Michael R. Bloomberg, founder of Bloomberg LP and Bloomberg Philanthropies and 108th mayor of New York City. “I applaud ATI's 28 High-Fliers for leading the way in this work and increasing the diversity of their campuses. We hope their efforts serve as an example for other schools that are committed to creating opportunity for more lower-income students, so we can accelerate national progress on this critical challenge.”

Since ATI’s launch in 2016, UC Merced has maintained one of the highest Pell shares among its 137 peers.

The university has achieved this through innovative initiatives including the Fiat Lux Scholars Program, providing a number of students with holistic support to achieve high levels of academic success. The invitation-only program provides a first-year living-learning community for income-eligible, first-generation undergraduate scholars. It also includes a financial aid package of $100,000 throughout the scholars' four years and dedicated staff to help guide scholars.

“The youngest campus in the University of California system, UC Merced was established in the Central Valley explicitly to spur social mobility in this often-overlooked region,” said Chancellor Juan Sánchez Muñoz. “With students from underrepresented groups making up 80 percent of our undergraduates, and with 60 percent of our students Pell-eligible — many of whom go on to advanced degrees — we are not only changing the Valley but changing the future face of higher education.”

UC Merced has continued this work through ATI’s Accelerating Opportunity campaign. Along with fellow ATI members, UC Merced set public, aspirational lower-income student enrollment goals for the first time to help combat the lingering impacts of the pandemic. Two years in, the campus continues to maintain the highest Pell share in the initiative and is advancing a shared commitment among all 137 ATI members to close equity-based retention and graduation gaps.

As a result of UC Merced’s leadership in ATI and the Accelerating Opportunity campaign, thousands of additional lower-income students across the United States are accessing and earning bachelor’s degrees. Data shows these students are historically more likely to have higher wages, pursue graduate degrees, become entrepreneurs and engage in their communities.

Find more information on ATI and Bloomberg Philanthropies’ other initiatives to expand college access and success online.