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Boondoggle U., cont.

9:01 AM, Apr 20, 2012 • By DANIEL HALPER
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Lawrence Pitts, provost of the University of California, writes this letter to the editor in response to Charlotte Allen's “Boondoggle U.,” which appeared in the most recent issue of THE WEEKLY STANDARD:

To the editor:

In your April 14 article about the University of California’s newest campus in Merced (“Boondoggle U.”), writer Charlotte Allen asks the right question: why would the financially strapped state of California build its newest campus in the fastest-growing but most-impoverished region of the state? Unfortunately, she doesn’t seem to recognize the answer is implicit in her question.

It was in large measure because of the conditions she cites that the University of California Board of Regents decided, nearly 25 years ago, to site the tenth UC campus in the inland San Joaquin Valley, where unemployment and poverty rates have consistently been among the highest in the state, and where college-going rates have been among the lowest. They knew that building a major public research university in the heart of the state’s neediest region would attract talent and investment to the valley, provide educational opportunity to historically underserved populations, and significantly boost the region’s long-term economic contribution to the state.  

They were right. To date, UC Merced, which opened in 2005, has pumped more than $700 million into the regional economy, attracted more than $100 million in research funding, and put many thousands of people to work, directly or indirectly. A recent report by the Milken Institute, which tracks economic growth and job creation in the nation’s largest cities, reported that the city of Merced achieved the largest one-year gain last year of any community in its 379-city index, moving up 105 places to 63rd on the list.

The newest University of California campus also has spurred a dramatic increase in college attendance among San Joaquin Valley students. Applications from the region to the UC system as a whole have increased more than 50 percent since 2004, the year before UC Merced opened. Applications to UC Merced have also increased sharply during that time while enrollment has increased six fold, from 875 students in 2005 to a current total of nearly 5,200.

This successful early trajectory should come as no surprise to anyone familiar with the 144-year history of the 10-campus University of California. Every new campus added to the system has been bemoaned at the time by critics, both internal and external, as a bridge too far, a boondoggle. In every case, these doubters eventually were proven wrong. Each additional campus in its own way not only strengthened its surrounding region but also enriched California’s economy and its culture as a whole.

UC Merced will prove to be no exception. The campus is situated exactly where it should be, doing precisely what a fledgling research university should be doing, and making dramatic progress. The nation’s first, and only, public research university to open in the 21st century will benefit the state and nation for generations to come.

Sincerely,

Lawrence Pitts
Provost
University of California

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