The days of tuition-free education at Cal Poly are long gone.

According to the first course catalog published by the then California Polytechnic School in 1903, the school charged students $35 for books, supplies and a laboratory fee, or $921.13 adjusted for inflation. The first fee outside of books, supplies, laboratory, room and board and uniform expenses was the student affairs fee, costing Cal Poly students $7 in 1924, or $99.41 in today’s dollars.

However, since the implementation of a California State University (CSU) tuition fee in the early 1980s, the adjusted cost of attending Cal Poly has been on a steady incline. Now, after the recent CSU system-wide tuition increase for the upcoming year, the total cost of attending Cal Poly is expected to be $27,153 for in-state students  in 2017-2018 school year.

This increase is the first CSU tuition hike since 2011 when system-wide tuition increased from $4,440 to $5,472. This marks a 73 percent increase in tuition and fees at Cal Poly since 2004 and a 716 percent increase in the past 50 years. The total estimated cost of attending the university, including tuition, fees, room and board and other expenses in 2017 has increased by 24.4 percent in 10 years.


The cost increases are not unique to Cal Poly. Overall, the university’s tuition and fees increases have mostly fallen in line with those seen from all public four year universities in California at 75.35 percent.

Considering the median income of 17- to 23-year-old in the United States was $16,232.50 in 2013, according to the Federal Reserve’s Survey of Consumer Finances, the stress that increased costs places on college students is especially telling. Assuming a student works every week at California’s minimum wage, without accounting for income tax, they would need to work twice as many hours as a student making minimum wage who attended Cal Poly in the late 1970s and early 1980s.


Hour of Work to Attend Cal Poly
A depiction of the calculated number of hours a student would have to work per week at California’s minimum wage to pay for Cal Poly. This graph does not take into account state or federal income taxes. Thus, the total required hours of work per week would likely be more than pictured.

The number of hours a minimum wage worker would have to work per week to pay for attending the university peaked in 2013. There has been marginal relief in recent years due to three minimum wage increases since 2014. However, a student would still have to work more than 40 hours per week to cover all expenses.

The topic of cost in higher education has been an issue of contention, especially in recent years. Reactions to the CSU’s most recent tuition increase ranged from protests during Cal Poly’s Open House to proposals calling for tuition-free education in California.

Preceding the decision passed down by the CSU Board of Trustees to increase CSU tuition, Assemblywoman Sharon Quirk-Silva of Fullerton introduced a bill to freeze CSU and community college tuition and fee increases until 2020. However, this did not prevent the additional $270 in tuition that will be applied to all CSU students in the 2017-18 school year.