UC Merced Chancellor Dorothy Leland presides over the University of California’snewest, smallest and most diverse campus. More than half of her 8,000 students are low-income and underrepresented minorities; nearly three-fourths are the first in their families to attend college. This year, in U.S. News and World Report’s rankings of public universities, those students helped the campus climb 18 spots, to No. 2, for surpassing expected graduation rates.
Leland recently spoke with The Times about her changing campus.
I was thrilled. We’re only 13 years old. We’re building this plane as we’re flying it. People always say, `Well, their graduation rates are lower than the rest of the UCs,’ but most of our students are poor, they’re first generation, minority. If you look at how those students are predicted to do, we’re 16 points higher than predicted.
We’re just beginning to put into place practices that have been shown nationally to be successful for student retention and student graduation. In the last couple of years, we’ve had writing labs, we’ve had math tutoring labs. This year we’re creating STEM residential learning communities so students can come in as freshmen and really get a lot of extra support at living-learning communities. There are national studies that show that feelings of attachment to a campus are a retention boost. Many of our students just feel it’s a vibrant community. They feel comfortable. They feel as if their cultures are represented. I think that helps.

How did you score so well for teaching quality among public universities?

Research universities can have the reputation for not caring about undergraduate students — and in fact, historically for a long time they were a second thought. But we got to start over right from the beginning. We try to hire for people that really want to work with our students because of who they are. There’s no research university in the nation that, over time, has more capability to prove that you can be a high-powered research university and have strong commitments to diversity. So that’s pretty special.

UC has started studying the possibility of dropping the SAT and ACT requirements. Would you welcome this?

I would. The tests are biased against the kinds of students Merced is known for accepting. The trick will be [seeing] if there are other measures that faculty can use that are even more reliable in predicting success. And I think they’ll find them because there are other national models out there. Some very, very fine institutions have dropped mandatory SATs.

Read more : Teresa Watanabe : LA Times : 29 December 2018