VUSD clears path for students to achieve higher education

Visalia Unified School District partners with UC Merced to provide students with education opportunities at the four-year university

VISALIA – Visalia students looking to pursue a college career at a four-year university have a clear pathway to attend the University of California, Merced if they meet the university’s eligibility requirements.

At the Visalia Unified School District (VUSD) board of education meeting on Oct. 25, the board approved a memorandum of understanding with University of California, Merced, or UC Merced, to bring the Merced Automatic Admissions Program (MAAP) to Visalia students. Through MAAP, high school juniors who meet eligibility requirements for UC Merced admission would be guaranteed a spot with the university if they decided to enroll there.

“The UC system is quite hard to get into but UC Merced, in partnership with us, is going to make that much more doable for our students,” Andy Di Meo, assistant superintendent of VUSD educational services, said.

The partnership would allow eligible VUSD juniors an automatic admission to almost every UC Merced undergraduate program after submitting a guarantee admissions application. The applications must be submitted by the month of May during their school year. The only program that does not have automatic admission is the Bachelors of Science to Medical Degree program, according to Dustin Noji, director of admissions for UC Merced. Students are still able to apply for the medical program, but won’t receive automatic admission since it requires an additional, conditional admission to University of California, San Francisco. Additionally, there are limited spots for the program and a separate review process since the students are being admitted to a medical school.

According to Noji, VUSD approached the university’s Center for Educational Partnerships when they heard about MAAP. It is the third school district in Tulare County to partner with the university on the program. Noji said UC Merced hopes this opportunity will let Central Valley students know they are wanted in the Merced community. He said students are welcome to start their intellectual journey at the top-ranked, national research university “right down the road” from their location.

“UC Merced was established not just in the Valley, but for the Valley,” Noji said.

To meet eligibility standards for UC Merced, students must complete all required A-G high school courses, which are classes that meet college entrance requirements, as well as possess and maintain a 3.5 grade point average. They also must have no less than a C grade in their classes.

Di Meo said VUSD has always arranged field trips to colleges and universities, like College of the Sequoias as well as California State University, Fresno and Fresno Pacific University. However, staff is currently working to expand those field trips so students have more opportunities to visit more four-year universities.

“Many of our students have never been to a four year campus,” Di Meo said. “Imagine how exciting it’s going to be for them to just walk on the grounds of the campus and realize that they could be there.”

The partnership with the university lines up in good timing with a new state requirement passed in June 2021, which requires all California high school students to fill out a free application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form. The new requirement started with the 2022-23 school year. According to a blog post from the California School Boards Association, the new approach provides students throughout the state with expanded access to financial aid to empower them as they make college and long-term career decisions. Students not interested in applying for FAFSA can opt-out by filling out a waiver.

This agreement is an expansion of an already established partnership with the university from last year through the Early Academic Outreach Program (EAOP). EAOP was established in 1976 by the University of California to assist students at underserved schools prepare for college and the workforce, according to the EAOP website

Through the partnership, two counselors from UC Merced visit four comprehensive high schools in Visalia, which are El Diamante, Redwood, Golden West and Mt Whitney. A typical comprehensive high school offers more than one specialized course program to its students. The counselors, called academic outreach counselors, work with students grades nine through 12 to help them stay on track to achieve their college ambitions at any college of their choosing.

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