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History of Merced County

Merced College Administration Building in 1978
Merced College Administration Building in 1978

Prior to the discovery of gold in California, the San Joaquin Valley was pristine. Wild clover grew taller than a horse’s head. Streams teemed with salmon, bass, and trout. Grizzly bears and antelope roamed far and wide. The early inhabitants of the valley, the Northern Valley Yokuts, estimated to number around 30,000, roved the entire valley floor. During an 1806 expedition, Ensign Gabriel wrote of finding a welcoming river to quench the expedition’s thirst. He named it El Río de la Nuestra Señora de la Merced, The River of Our Lady of Mercy, known simply today as the Merced River. The valley landscape changed rapidly when gold prospectors overran the area on their way to the gold fields.

When California achieved statehood in 1850, Mariposa County covered much of the valley, extending to a mutual boundary with San Diego and Los Angeles counties. In 1855, lowland farmers decided they did not have much in common with the miners of the foothills and mountains and petitioned to have a section split off to form a new county. When the petition was granted, Governor John Bigelow formed Merced County on April 19, 1855. According to the 1857 tax assessment rolls, the new county hosted a population of 277 with the first county seat located in Snelling. Once the railroad came through the county, much of the business and the county seat moved to the new town of Merced, which was incorporated in 1889.

Since that day, growth and change has continued in Merced County.

District and Organization

The Merced Community College District (District) is composed of most of Merced County, Chowchilla Union High School District in Madera County, Dos Palos Joint Elementary School District in Fresno County, and the Los Banos Unified School District. The District is governed by a seven-member elected Board of Trustees. The main campus is located on M Street in Merced. The Los Banos Campus is located on Highway 152 in the City of Los Banos.

Merced College Administration Building in 2020

The Beginnings of the College District

Merced College is a California public community college operated by the Merced Community College District, which was formed by a vote of the people of the Le Grand and Merced Union high school districts on February 27, 1962. The District became effective for all purposes on July 1, 1963. The District, which included the eastern half of Merced County at that time, consisted of the areas served by these two high school districts. The Board of Trustees consisted of five elected-at-large members.

In later years, the Board of Trustees was expanded with two additional trustees, one to specifically represent the Dos Palos/Los Banos area and one to represent the Chowchilla area. Elections were also changed from at-large elections to District elections. Thus, the Board now numbers seven trustees, each elected within a specific area of the District.


A democratic society functions best when its members are educated and active participants. To encourage this participation, Merced College provides educational opportunities for all who qualify and can benefit. This education involves having a respect for and awareness of all cultures, as well as the dignity and worth of all individuals.

Merced College is dedicated to the pursuit of excellence. The leadership and educational services provided by the College reflect and enhance the cultural, economic, and social life of the community and respond to its changing needs and interests. Recognizing that learning is a life-long process, the College provides preparation for a complex and changing society while maintaining high academic standards. The College also fosters individual learning and critical thinking to enhance awareness of the interrelationship and interdependence of all persons.


Enriching our community through educational experiences and support services:

  • Degree/Certificate Programs

  • Transfer

  • Career Technical Education

  • Workforce Training

  • Lifelong Learning

  • Basic Skills

  • Community Engagement

Merced College promotes student success through equitable access, continuous quality improvement, and institutional effectiveness, all with a focus on student achievement.


At Merced College, students are our focus, and we are known by their success. We transform lives through education and workforce development.

Core Values

Student Engagement & Support

Merced College prioritizes student access and success. Here are a few ways in which we support our dedication to student access and success.

Trust & Communication

Merced College promotes an atmosphere of trust where communication and teamwork cultivate an environment rich for teaching and learning.

Innovation & Technology

Merced College utilizes agility, innovation, technology, and responsible risk-taking to anticipate the needs of the future.


Merced College actively engages with the campus community and community partners to respond to cultural, educational, economic, and technological needs.

Critical Thinking

Merced College strives for continuous improvement based on data-driven self-reflection, objective assessment, and dialogue to develop creative solutions for current and future challenges.


Merced College celebrates the diversity in our community by cultivating an inclusive and equitable college environment. We value the experiences of our diverse campus community and recognize that our collective identity is strengthened by all our lived experiences.

Well-being & Happiness

Merced College fosters and values an environment supporting student and employee well-being, engagement, and happiness.

Vision, Mission, and Core Values Board Approved 12/13/2022.

Merced Campus Ag-IT building.

The Merced Campus

The Merced Campus is located one mile north of Olive Avenue in Merced, on the east side of M Street. Originally consisting of 110 acres presented as a gift to the College by the C-H-M and the Yosemite Land & Cattle Companies through the efforts of Merced city officials, the campus expanded to 269 acres with additional purchases of adjacent land.

Classes began on September 10, 1963 at a temporary site located at the Merced County Fairgrounds. Classes at the permanent campus began in the summer of 1966. The new campus was completed in spring 1967 and dedication ceremonies were held on April 23, 1967.

The Administration Building, the Science Building, and a temporary library facility were the first main buildings constructed. The Student Union was completed in November 1967. Since that time, facilities were added, including a gymnasium, an automotive shop, agriculture facilities, and technical labs for drafting, engineering, and vocational nursing. The Lesher Library and the Theater were completed for use in fall 1972.

Over the next 30 years, many facilities were completed or modified to meet current needs. The Child Development Center was completed in spring 2002, expanding the outer perimeter of the College’s educational facilities northward.

In 2002, voters passed a $53.5 million bond measure for the Merced Campus (Measure H). The following projects have been completed: the North Loop Road, a campus wide energy retrofit, the Learning Resources Center, the Science Building renovation, the Business Resource Center, the Lesher Building renovation, Administration Building renovation, Student Union Building renovation, and the Allied Health Complex Project. In 2012, the Theater was renovated to provide ADA access to the Theater Basement. In 2022, construction was completed on the new state-of-the-art Agriculture and Industrial Technology Complex on the Merced Campus. The new complex provides a wide range of career technical education programs in agriculture, including agribusiness, general agriculture, horticulture and animal science, as well as industrial technology, including HVAC, electronics, and computer networking and programming.

Los Banos Campus

The Los Banos Campus of Merced College

The Los Banos Campus, an educational center 40 miles west of the Merced campus, serves the people of Los Banos, Dos Palos, and the surrounding areas. It began as a full-service campus in September 1971 in rented facilities. In 1973, the Los Banos Unified School District’s voters approved joining the District and the Dos Palos Joint Elementary School District’s voters approved moving from the West Hills Community College District to the District in 1978. The Los Banos Campus was formally approved by the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office as an educational center in 1979.

In 1982, thanks to a donation of 10 acres by Richard Menezes, the campus moved to a site on Mercey Springs Road with modular buildings providing educational opportunities and serving as a cultural and intellectual center for the residents of the Westside of Merced County.

Thanks to a donation of 125 acres by Larry and Georgeann Anderson and to the passage of a local bond measure, construction of a new campus began in 2005. The new campus, located on Highway 152 on the western boundary of Los Banos, opened in 2007.

The campus offers a variety of programs for day and evening classes and provides a wide range of academic, vocational, personal, and noncredit classes, enabling a student to stay in Los Banos and take all the courses necessary for an associate degree and fulfill all the breadth requirements of four-year state colleges, obtain workforce training, or engage in lifelong learning.

Admission and registration procedures are the same as those for the Merced campus. We have a Welcome Center located in room A-110 to assist you with all the registration steps. For further information, contact the Los Banos Campus at 22240 Highway 152, Los Banos, CA 93635, or by calling (209) 826-3495.

Off-Campus Programs

In addition to extensive day and evening programs at the Merced and Los Banos campuses, Merced College schedules classes at other sites throughout the District, including Atwater, Chowchilla, Delhi, Dos Palos, Livingston, and Mariposa. Consult the current Schedule of Classes for class offerings and locations.