Student Success Fee set to open classes, fund student services

Last year, students narrowly passed the Student Success Fee, with the condition that the money be spent toward making classes more available. Now school is back in session, and students have paid the first installment of the fee, but are funds being spent as students hoped?

Sean McMinn

Administrators are aiming to cure the headache of finding classes, with millions of dollars heading toward opening up additional courses in the coming quarters.

Cal Poly President Jeffrey Armstrong approved a budget for Student Success Fee revenue just days before the beginning of fall quarter, the result of recommendations from university vice presidents, the provost and the Student Success Fee Allocation Advisory Committee.

The majority of the money — more than two-thirds of it — will go toward access to additional classes. This was something current Associated Students, Inc. (ASI) President Katie Morrow said the seven students on the committee “would not budge on,” even if it meant removing funding from other areas of campus.

“We could always do more,” Morrow said. “But with that amount of money, I am really happy with how it went.”

The university plans to open up additional classes in winter and spring, and Armstrong said 1,600 seats in classes were already created with Student Success Fee money this fall. This translated into a 2 percent increase in average units per student from Fall 2011, which associate vice provost Kimi Ikeda described as “substantial.”

“That higher unit number is a stronger indicator that the students got more access to classes,” Ikeda said.

Ikeda said though Cal Poly’s current plan is to further increase access to classes in winter and spring, it is contingent upon the passage of Proposition 30. If the proposition fails in November, the California State University system will take a $250 million cut, which estimates show would trickle down to $14 million at Cal Poly.

Aside from access to classes, the two largest expenditures came in the form of workshops in science and mathematics and funding the Disability Resource Center (DRC). The workshops, which are aimed at helping students through science and mathematics classes, use $389,900 (nearly 5 percent) of the fee’s income. The DRC, which provides equal-opportunity services to students with disabilities, was allocated $357,400 (4 percent) of the Student Success Fee revenue.

Provost Kathleen Enz Finken, who oversees those supplemental workshops, wrote an email to Mustang Daily addressing why instruction in science and mathematics took precedence over other subjects. She said the workshops will be open to students in all majors, since every student is required to take science and math classes as part of their general education requirements.

“Those workshops have very good outcomes,” Enz Finken wrote in the email. “That is, students tend to succeed at a greater rate than if they do not attend the workshops.”

Furthering the theme of student success is funding to the DRC on campus. As Mustang Daily reported earlier this year, the center has struggled with state budget cuts since one-time funds were exhausted. Those cuts forced the center to cut student staff and curtail some services mandated by the state.

Morrow said the new funding allocated to the center is aimed to restore its resources to previous levels.

“It has such an enormous impact on the people that need those services, that we have to fund it,” Morrow said.

Separate from the DRC, counseling services also received $231,000 that was aimed not only at bringing back previous levels of service, but instead expanding the center, Morrow said. Mental health was a primary focus of those who proposed the fee earlier this year.

Though just 7 percent of Cal Poly students used counseling during the past academic year, head of counseling services Bruce Meyer said he expects a large increase in coming months due to two new, already-hired counselors with a third one on the way.

“We want to be out on campus as much as we can, providing education to help prevent incidents before they happen,” Meyer said.

A concern leading up to last year’s referendum on the Student Success Fee was how much money would be spent on athletics, as so much strain had already been placed on Cal Poly’s academic departments. In the final allocation, just $66,667 (less than 1 percent) was spent on athletics.

Armstrong said the money spent on athletics was lower than some early estimates, so more could be spent on classes.

“I really did agree with the students that right away we needed to put more money into classes,” Armstrong said.

Armstrong, who presented the fee as a way to find financial stability during its hotly contested implementation, approved the spending of approximately $8.6 million after a final proposal by Interim Vice President of Student Affairs Preston Allen and Provost Kathleen Enz Finken came to his desk Sept. 11. He signed the budget the next day.

The Student Success Fee was introduced last year by then-provost Robert Koob, who promoted it as a way to fight budget cuts to the California State University (CSU) system. Students passed the fee in a February advisory vote before Armstrong and CSU Chancellor Charles Reed approved it for implementation.

As administrators phase in the Student Success Fee, it will bring in approximately $11 million in the 2014 academic school year, and $14 million every year after that, provided enrollment stays the same.

A new committee will be formed every year to re-evaluate funding and allocate the next year’s revenue. Morrow and Larry Kelley, vice president of administration and finance, are serving as chairs of this year’s committee. The two will submit a new allocation plan to Armstrong in 2013.

“While I’m so grateful and we appreciate the trust you as students have put in us with the Student Success Fee, it didn’t solve all the problems,” Armstrong said. “So we’re working hard every way we can.”