Olivia Peluso is an English senior and Mustang News opinion editor. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of Mustang News.
The Cal Poly 2035 Master Plan, an ambitious 15-year construction project which will renovate and expand our campus facilities, is in its final stages of completion after a five-year drafting process. While manageable growth of the student body and consequent expansion of campus facilities are expected, I believe some of the proposed additions to campus, specifically the new dormitories and university housing complexes, will negatively impact our student body.
There are several key issues regarding the financial burden of these new housing complexes on both students and the university. California, much like the rest of the nation, is sliding into a recession as we withstand yet another week of the shelter-at-home order. Thus, the median income of residents state and nation-wide is due to plummet, and families will feel the burden of these external costs now more than ever. Moreover, while the Cal Poly administration has clearly presented the plans to construct and expand, exactly how remains unclear. The new yakɁitʸutʸu dorms cost $198 million to build, and Cal Poly is still collecting “activity fees” from students to pay for that huge project (among others, like the Rec Center, remodeled nearly 10 years ago). I am left with questions. How will the university fund these massive projects? Are there other areas of campus that deserve more attention? How do we ensure that our campus does not turn into a metropolis?
The Master Plan proposes the addition of 7,200 beds, more than four times as many as the new yakɁitʸutʸu complex. Around 8,000 students already live on-campus, which is about 36% of the student body according to a letter written by Vice President for Student Affairs Keith Humphrey. Cal Poly’s goal is to have 65% of students live on-campus, which would nearly double the amount who currently live in university housing. While the administration claims that requiring second-year students to live on-campus fosters a more sound academic and social life, there is no data to support this. It seems more likely that the proposed requirement is a way to control the Cal Poly economy; it ensures that more students will live in Cal Poly’s buildings and use their dining facilities. Requiring students to live on campus for two years ensures revenue.
At an Academic Senate meeting in February, University Housing claimed that greater student retention was their primary inspiration to extend housing requirements. However, as pointed out by statistics professor Steve Rein, this data was statistically flawed. The study did not take into account wealth, whether the student’s parents attended college, and other variables. Perhaps this claim needs to be revisited before Cal Poly unleashes such an expansive and expensive undertaking.
University housing is incredibly expensive. A double room in yakɁitʸutʸu (not including meal plan) is just over $1,100 per month, for a bed, desk and closet. In contrast, off-campus housing in San Luis Obispo, while not cheap, gives students much more flexibility with respect to pricing, space, and meal options. The net/net may very well be cheaper than on-campus housing. Requiring two years on campus could interfere with a student’s ability to attend the school. The impact on Cal Poly’s valued diversity goals could, in turn, be negative. Will the new dorms be even more expensive, or will the median cost of all university housing increase to flatten the discrepancy? While the Master Plan vaguely alludes to how it will manage to support students from low-income families, I have yet to hear of any tangible explanations.
Another issue that surfaces upon the consideration of 7,200 more beds is parking. Will first and second-year students be sternly discouraged from bringing a vehicle, or will they build another structure? Metered spots and quarterly parking passes are already expensive and scarce.
The Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR) considered the increase in vehicles likely to accompany the increased number of on-campus students. The mitigation plan proposes to “reduce the availability of or eliminate on-campus parking for freshman and/or sophomores,” as well as “increase the cost of on-campus resident parking permits, implement tiered parking pricing based on the distance to campus or time of day, and/or employ a tiered pricing from limited days” according to the Executive Summary. Where will freshman and sophomore on-campus students park? If there are insufficient parking facilities, how will students meet extracurricular and work demands? Eliminating on-campus parking for freshman and sophomore students severely impacts their ability to work, and increased/tiered pricing will only serve students who can afford it.
Schools like UC Berkeley and UCLA offer co-op housing, with which students have the opportunity to learn sustainable practices and simultaneously save nearly half on rent. To churn out another 7,200 beds in the same cookie-cutter style of dormitory living is not necessary, financially sound, nor right to the students required to spend two years in campus facilities.
While I recognize and respect University Housing’s efforts to create dormitory communities (Substance Free, Arts, Eco, etc.), ultimately the close quarters and often chaotic style of dormitory living may not positively contribute to a student’s college experience. With alternative or co-op style living accommodations, students have more control of their environment and are given more opportunities to learn in a community that is welcoming of their passions and interests.
Many California university co-op houses offer a range of themed communities for students who align with identities such as substance-free, African American, Latinx, LGBTQ+, vegetarian, etc. This could provide excellent opportunities for first or second-year students.
Accessibility and affordability go hand-in-hand; when the price of living and the price of working are high, Cal Poly suddenly becomes an unattainable living situation for many students who deserve to be here. Affordable housing and dining plans are entirely necessary if Cal Poly aims to make its student body more diverse. I urge administration to consider more affordable, alternative styles of university housing.
I do not condemn Cal Poly for anticipating and encouraging growth; it’s only natural for a university like ours to pursue expansion and evolution. However, there are significant and obvious financial concerns with the Master Plan.
We need a solid, credible plan for funding the operational costs to ensure that no valued goals (such as the long list of environmental impact mitigation plans) will be compromised.
If you have comments or concerns about the Master Plan, reach out to the Board of Trustees at firstname.lastname@example.org.