UC Merced and College Track Announce Official Partnership to Democratize Potential

Joining forces to provide support systems that first-generation scholars can leverage in their pursuit of a transformative higher education experience—and a life of opportunity, choice, and power.

UC Merced and College Track Partner to Democratize Potential through Higher Education

Merced, CA (April 13) — The University of California, Merced, and College Track are pleased to announce a new partnership focused on ensuring that college students from underserved communities who want to be the first in their families to graduate from college are provided the tools, guidance, and environment to do so.

UC Merced proudly serves the most ethnically and culturally diverse student body among all University of California campuses and has been designated as a Hispanic-Serving Institution by the U.S. Department of Education. The university has the highest percentage of Pell Grant recipients in the UC system, with 60 percent of its undergraduate students benefitting from the federal financial aid program for low-income families. More than 70 percent of UC Merced students are first-generation, and over 80 percent are members of historically under-represented groups.

“UC Merced is proud to partner with College Track to provide more students, no matter their backgrounds or other circumstances, with access to a first-class education in the heart of California’s Central Valley,” said UC Merced Chancellor Juan Sánchez Muñoz, Ph.D. “We share College Track’s mission to empower students from underserved communities to graduate from college and look forward to help prepare these students for success in a world that desperately needs their ideas and problem-solving skills.”


College Track Boyle Heights scholars gathered to celebrate the new partnership on April 12, 2023.


Founded 25 years ago in East Palo Alto, CA, College Track is a comprehensive college-completion nonprofit whose mission is to equip students confronting systemic barriers to earn a bachelor’s degree in pursuit of a life of opportunity, choice, and power. College Track begins working with students in ninth grade and makes a 10-year commitment to accompanying them on their journey to, through, and beyond college. College Track scholars graduate at more than 2.5 times the rates of their first-generation peers from similar backgrounds.

“This is a powerful moment for College Track and for UC Merced, as we formalize a partnership that reflects our shared commitment to educational equity and to the vibrant communities we are honored to be a part of,” said College Track President & CEO Shirley M. Collado, Ph.D. “For 25 years, College Track has been dedicated to democratizing potential by equipping first-generation scholars to earn a bachelor’s degree and pursue a life of opportunity, choice, and power. This partnership represents the next chapter of this work, as we formalize connections that affirm an educational ecosystem that centers student success.”

UC Merced has been a top destination for College Track scholars since the campus opened in 2005: Since 2015, 52 have graduated from UC Merced, and 72 are currently enrolled. The new alliance will formalize the two organizations’ shared vision of the importance of a holistic, affirming, and asset-based approach to working with first-generation college scholars. Key elements of the partnership include:

Strength in numbers: UC Merced will admit College Track scholars through the UC admission process, with a minimum annual target of 25 eligible students. Having a network of peers from similar backgrounds has been shown to increase graduation rates. UC Merced will use the financial aid award process to cover tuition and fees for each College Track scholar who is a California resident and enrolled full time. Financial aid will also be offered to Western Undergraduate Exchange-eligible College Track scholars who are not California residents.

College Track scholars who are income-eligible may be invited to UC Merced’s Fiat Lux Scholars Program, which provides:

  • A first-year living-learning community for income-eligible, first-generation undergraduate scholars
  • Holistic support for scholars in the program throughout the duration of all four years at UC Merced, including workshops, peer advising, professional development, faculty mentors, and research opportunities
  • A financial aid package of $100,000 throughout the scholars’ four years ($25,000 each academic year) at UC Merced
  • Dedicated UC Merced professional and student staff who help guide scholars to achieve academic success

Designated co-leadership, staff, and space: To indicate the importance of the partnership to both organizations, UC Merced’s Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs will work directly with a member of College Track’s College Team to ensure the success of scholars. A position for a jointly funded, full-time, on-site staff member who will be dedicated solely to the College Track cohort will also be created, and space will be set aside for them.

Both UC Merced and College Track have received generous grants from philanthropist Mackenzie Scott for their work to bridge this nation’s racial and economic divide by improving higher education access for students who come from chronically underserved communities.

“For students to truly thrive in college, campus communities must be prepared to support the whole student—their intellectual curiosity, their academic interests, their sense of belonging, their authenticity and lived experience. This is the key to student success,” said Rosanna Ferro, Ed.D., College Track Chief of Education. “Our partnership with UC Merced puts a structure in place that creates such an environment, and enables a seamless transition for College Track scholars to move from high school onto a college campus that is built to foster their educational aspirations and big dreams for the future.”


About UC Merced

Founded in 2005, the University of California, Merced places an emphasis on interdisciplinary learning and is unmatched in diversity and sustainability. UC Merced offers 27 undergraduate majors in three colleges and 34 Ph.D. and master’s programs. It is ranked a top-50 U.S. college by Washington Monthly, top-100 by Money, US News and Hispanic Outlook on Education. Its mission to provide access and opportunity to California’s underserved Central Valley is reflected in the student body—more than 80% persons of color. All campus buildings are LEED certified and it was the first public research university in the nation to achieve carbon neutrality. UC Merced holds a platinum rating from the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education.

About College Track

College Track’s mission is to democratize potential by equipping students confronting systemic barriers to earn a bachelor’s degree in pursuit of a life of opportunity, choice, and power. College Track serves nearly 4,000 students from 12 centers located in California, Colorado, Louisiana, and the D.C. Metro Area, with more than 1,100 alumni across America. Ninety-two percent of College Track scholars are first-generation college students, and 86 percent are from underserved communities. They earn their bachelor’s degrees at more than two and a half times the rate of their first-generation peers.

Media contacts:
Wendy Hankle, Interim Senior Director of Marcom Strategy, whankle@collegetrack.org
Juan Carlos Flores, Public Information Officer, jflores331@ucmerced.edu

PHOTOS: High-resolution images are available for use by media