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Donation propels Merced College ag program
Local farmer gives largest gift in school history
Merced College ag donation
Local almond and pistachio farmer Raj Kahlon presents Merced College President Chris Vitelli with a $5 million check that will improve the school's ag programs and contribute to a new building for students (Photo contributed).

Merced College recently received the largest donation in school history, giving its agricultural programs a boost and contributing to plans for a new, state-of-the-art Agriculture and Industrial Technology complex.

Local pistachio and almond farmer Raj Kahlon gifted the community college $5 million in an agreement approved by its Board of Trustees on March 26 — a partnership that he believes will help contribute to the Merced economy for years to come.

“I believe that Merced College is the foundation of the Merced community. They’ve had strong ties to local agriculture since the school opened and continue to educate the area’s future agriculturists and leaders,” Kahlon said. “It is the reason I entered this partnership. Helping to grow the workforce of Merced County is important to everyone. I want to be a part of that growth.”

The agreement between Kahlon and the Merced College Foundation also includes developing approximately 100 acres of pistachios, which will not only generate additional funds for the school, but also provide an agricultural land lab for students to learn production and harvesting practices.

“This is the largest gift in Merced College history and the beginning of big things to come,” Merced College Superintendent and President Chris Vitelli said. “I’m proud of the work done by the Merced College Foundation to help make this happen and grateful to Raj Kahlon for his investment in our students and agricultural programs.

“Throughout this process, Raj has expressed his desire to give back to the community who has given him so much. I couldn’t be more appreciative of his incredible generosity and the long-term impact of this donation.”

The $5 million donation from Kahlon will be used largely in part for development of Merced College’s future 20,000-square foot Agriculture and IT building, which recently received a projected boost with the release of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s Proposed $144 billion budget in January.

Included in the budget was a California Community Colleges facilities item, allocating an increase of $358.7 million in general obligation bond funding for 12 new and 15 continuing projects. This allocation represents the next installment of the $2 billion available for the CCCs under Proposition 51 (2016), and will address critical fire and other safety issues at campuses statewide.

The Prop 51 funds will match the funds provided by a 2002 local-bond measure, allowing Merced College to move forward on the new $21-million facility.

Kahlon’s donation and the bond fulfillment come at the perfect time, as demand for careers in agriculture and IT continues to increase steadily. The current facilities at Merced College that cater to these fields were built in the 1960s and ‘70s. They’re outdated and show signs of wear, not to mention too small for the school’s growing population.

Newsom got to see that firsthand when he, Assemblymember Adam Gray, Congressman Jim Costa and local agricultural leaders toured the campus back in early October. Gray has been a huge advocate for the college getting the new facility built and played an integral role in getting the then Lt. Governor to visit the campus.

“Making good on our promise to this community, we are going to build one of the best agriculture and industrial technology buildings possible to reflect the quality of our flagship programs,” Vitelli said. “This new facility will help our students learn cutting-edge industry skills and earn high-demand, high-wage jobs.”

The proposed building will consist of 20,000 square feet of classroom and laboratory space for programs in agribusiness, industrial technology, horticulture, HVAC, crop science and animal science. The added classrooms and labs will increase enrollment capacity by 2,248 weekly student contact hours, helping to keep pace with the 12-percent enrollment bump that the Chancellor’s Office predicts from 2016-2022. The college hopes to break ground on the project in fall of next year.

Kahlon will be honored as the President’s Medallion recipient at the seventh annual State of the College luncheon, which is set to be held on May 8. Vitelli will also recommend to the Merced College Board of Trustees that the College’s new Agriculture and Industrial Technology Building is named after Kahlon.

Executive Director of the Merced College Foundation Jill Cunningham said Kahlon’s gift is near and dear to the school administration’s heart. President Vitelli studied agriculture and was very active in the FFA, while Cunningham has deep roots in the Le Grand farming community.

“I’m a third generation Merced College family and I’m thrilled that this donation will propel the next generations to come.”

For more information about the upcoming State of the College luncheon visit or call (209) 384-6470.