Cal Poly President Jeffrey Armstrong is rising to the challenges of funding constraints following Governor Jerry Brown’s 2011-2012 proposed state budget cut of an estimated 21 percent of university state funding last month, Armstrong said it is up to him to continue the university’s reputation of quality.
“It’s up to me as president to be a steward of who we are, and a good steward of that quality,” Armstrong said. “That means matching the number of students with the money that we have and being able to learn by doing.”
The “money that we have,” Armstrong refers to is based on Brown’s latest budget, which calls for a $500 million reduction to the California State University (CSU) system, CSU media specialist Erik Fallis said.
This loss could double if voters do not approve three tax extensions that raise money for the CSU system. The state has not decided if the matter will be on the ballot in June, Fallis said. The taxes Brown is asking to extend are higher rates of state income taxes, sales tax and motor vehicle registration for five years.
Vice president for administration and finance Larry Kelley tailored these numbers to Cal Poly.
“We have not received an allocation notice for next year, but we estimate the reduction in state allocation to be about $25.8 million,” Kelley said. “Or roughly 21 percent of the state support.”
This is the most recent cut in a sequence of annual reductions.
“Four years ago, the state provided Cal Poly $150 million,” Armstrong said. “We know it’s going to drop, at least, to $99 million.”
Armstrong is the former dean of agriculture at Michigan State University, where budget deficits have also been a problem for more than a decade. He said he is confident funding can be replaced by increasing tuition and fees, continuing to bring in non-resident students and reaching out to donors and corporations for development.
A 10 percent fee increase has already been approved for Fall 2011, Fallis said.
To increase the number of non-resident students, whose fees are matched by the state, Cal Poly funds a portion of out-of-state recruitment but mostly relies on nationwide interest due to strict competition and high rankings. The cost of attendance for an out-of-state student for the 2010-2011 academic year is $24,980 because out-of-state students pay an additional $248 per unit on top of the flat fee of $6,920. For the 2011-2012 school year, out-of-state students can be expected to pay $25, 962 — a $982 difference.
“It’s not the single-point solution, but it is one avenue because they pay more than their share,” Armstrong said.
Cal Poly is still very competitive at the national level, Armstrong said, citing a 75 percent graduation rate of all students between 2005 and 2011.
Upholding and expanding on the current value of Cal Poly is important to inspire supportive funding, Armstrong said.
“We have a technology park that is almost full of companies that are looking to take what our undergraduates and faculty are doing and turn it into companies,” he said. “It’s either the result of Cal Poly, or they want to be close to Cal Poly to help it grow.”
In the past, Cal Poly has balanced approximately 43 percent of the deficit with furloughs, 37 percent with fee increases and 20 percent with reductions to operating budgets and attrition, Kelley said.
“Attrition occurs as people quit or retire,” Kelley said. “Holding the positions vacant provides budget savings.”
Strains on teacher accessibility emerge when faculty and staff numbers diminish as a result of attrition.
Architecture junior Kiley Feickert said she worries what further faculty and staff reductions could mean for the value of her education.
“Being an architecture student, we have a studio environment, which is really important to develop our design abilities,” she said. “One of the main things is it’s supposed to be a low student-to-teacher ratio. When I came in, the studio numbers (of students) where around 16 to 18, at the max, and now they’ve been increasing to between 18 and 20.”
Although “Learn By Doing” is more costly than lecture-oriented education, it is only in danger if there is an all-cuts budget and no replacement of funds, Armstrong said.
Cal Poly’s prized hands-on method is a solution rather than a burden in balancing the budget, he said.
“I’m absolutely optimistic we will preserve ‘Learn By Doing,’” Armstrong said. “That’s who we are.”