The California State University (CSU) system is pushing for all CSU campuses to increase enrollment rates for the upcoming school year. Cal Poly is not interested in doing so.
This fall, Cal Poly President Jeffrey Armstrong will propose to CSU Chancellor Timothy White that Cal Poly should maintain a “steady-state enrollment,” meaning the university would accept approximately as many students are graduating or transferring out.
According to Armstrong, Cal Poly currently faces barriers that would hinder the university’s ability to grow.
“We’ve hit our max on so many fronts, but it’s such a complicated matter,” Armstrong said. “We can’t grow the way we have been growing, that’s for sure. We’ve simply run out of room.”
Because the CSU’s budget request of an additional $97 million has been fully funded for this fiscal year, there is room to admit 13,000 more students statewide, according to CSU Public Affairs Web Communications Specialist Liz Chapin.
In the last five years, state schools haven’t seen a real push to increase enrollment because there was not enough funding to do so, Chapin said. Yet enrollment rates across all CSU campuses have increased by approximately 6 percent since 2009.
“The CSU is here to educate students and provide students with an opportunity to earn a college degree. In the past, we had to turn away qualified students, 20-30,000 students,” Chapin said. “We needed the money in order to open our door to those students to give them access to an education.”
Now, Chapin said, the CSU is interested in expanding its existing campuses to accommodate deserving students.
Cal Poly’s Master Plan will create space and needed facilities to grow to a desired 25,000 students in the future. In the short term, there isn’t enough space to accommodate a significantly larger student population, according to Armstrong.
“We want to serve as many students as possible but we want to serve them well so we are balancing quality and quantity,” Armstrong said.
Every year, each CSU campus is given a target enrollment percentage for California residences. According to Armstrong, Cal Poly has seen a minimal growth rate of about 0.5 percent every year.
Non-resident student enrollment has grown at a higher rate, though they make up a small portion of the student body, which is 86 percent California residents and 14 percent non-residents. Armstrong considers the growth of non-resident students positive, he said, because their larger tuition costs help pay to increase class availability and keep the Learn by Doing philosophy alive and well.
Cal Poly’s request to the CSU will be a steady-state enrollment. That doesn’t necessarily mean that incoming classes will be smaller than the year prior, but that the number of incoming students will be about the same as those who have graduated, transferred or dropped out of the university.
“We have reached a point with our classrooms, with our housing, with our laboratories, with our faculty offices. Regardless of where the student comes from, we need to reach a steady state,” Armstrong said. “If we are going to grow, it will be a minimal growth. We are not planning on shrinking enrollment.”
If Cal Poly is denied the request to maintain a steady-state enrollment, the enrollment percentage increase will remain minimal as it has in past years, Armstrong said.
“The CSU is very collaborative,” he said. “It’s going to be about reaching a compromise that works for Cal Poly and the CSU.”
In the case that enrollment rates do increase, the San Luis Obispo community and neighborhoods could be affected.
“I applaud President Armstrong in his efforts to ensure we have the capacity on campus as well as that we’re able to manage the impacts to the community as a whole,” San Luis Obispo City Councilman and Vice Mayor John Ashbaugh said. “We support his attempt to manage growth at Cal Poly.”
Carolyn Smith, the board secretary for local homeowners group Residents for Quality Neighborhoods has seen the impact more student residents could have on the neighborhoods. Neighborhoods surrounding Cal Poly are facing conflict because it is difficult to merge the lifestyles of students and family residents, she said. Families have moved out of their neighborhoods and, sometimes, out of San Luis Obispo entirely.
A greater student population would be very difficult for neighborhoods to absorb without more noise complaints or traffic, Smith said.
“We love students, but when we get too many of them without infrastructure, it’s very difficult for residents, especially those that have been here a long time,” she said.