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Nestled within the financial section of the Student Center portal is an itemized breakdown of a Cal Poly student’s tuition and fees. Among these is the college-based fee, a predetermined amount that all Cal Poly students are charged on a quarterly basis. The only deviant in the amount of this fee is the College of Liberal Arts (CLA). CLA students pay $120 less than all other colleges, according to a tuition and fees breakdown on Cal Poly’s website.

When college-based fees were first introduced, all colleges except CLA agreed on the same base fee. The then-dean of the CLA fought for a lesser base fee for liberal arts students. He believed that technology requirements for liberal arts students did not have the same expenses as those in other colleges.

According to current CLA Dean Doug Epperson, college-based fees increase slightly each year, maintaining the differential between CLA and all other colleges.

“If a college-based fee is raised three percent, for us it’s three percent of our base,” Epperson said. “For engineering, it’s three percent of their base, so what it does is it actually widens the gap over time with that increment system.”

In 2014, the CLA proposed raising the college-based fee base to match the amount paid by students in all other colleges. Their reasoning was that technology and equipment needs had become greater in recent years and that students could benefit from increased opportunities like assistantships, research support, conferences and paid research assistant positions.

The initiative was struck down by students by a three-vote difference.

According to CLA Associate Dean Debra Valencia-Laver, even if the college-based fees were to be equalized, individual course fees and out-of-pocket expenses would not go away. Some majors are still left with additional costs for projects and materials leading to varying amounts of out-of-pocket expenses for classes.

Art and Design

Art and Design students pay for most materials and supplies out of pocket. According to graphic design senior Kelly Chiu, printing, paper, art supplies and darkroom photography developing materials are among materials that must be paid for out-of-pocket by each art and design student.

“The tools they have in the studio, but anything that’s liquid or chemicals or things that you use one time, you have to provide for yourself,” Chiu said.

Chiu’s personal interests within her major include photography. Cal Poly’s art and design department requires Chiu and other students to pay for their own photo developing supplies, unlike her community college where the chemicals were provided with tuition. She also found that technological resources were lacking for students in the graphic design concentration.

“You know, when you think of a graphic design major, isn’t a functioning computer lab kind of a main thing?” Chiu said. “You know how [graphic communication] has a nice lab? We don’t really have that.”

Regardless of concentration, all art and design majors are also required to take certain courses with supplies that prove costly.

“We all had to have a certain amount of studio art classes, so obviously painting and drawing classes, those are all out of our own pockets. Those can get expensive,” Chiu said.


Architecture is one of the most expensive majors at Cal Poly because of materials required for models and other projects. Architecture junior Bradley Nissen said he spent at least $400 on supplies for all of his classes fall quarter.

“I’m taking a [class from a] professor that has us design and build nightstands, so I had to buy walnut, I had to buy steel rod, I had to buy concrete, foam work for all of that,” Nissen said. “Overall, I think the nightstand that I built was [more than] $200 just in supplies.”

Professors encourage students to use reclaimed materials, but Nissen said many architecture students end up buying more expensive ones because they look nicer. However, students are not penalized for using cheaper or reclaimed materials because grades are more dependent on the look of the final product.

“It depends a lot more on how well it’s put together and some materials are easier to put together than others,” Nissen said.

Not all academic quarters in architecture prove as costly. According to Nissen, some studio classes require mostly digital work and fees associated with plotting. In those quarters, students can spend as little as $50. But overall, the cost of being an architecture student tends to be substantial.


Statistics senior Hans Schumann said statistics majors have little to no external costs associated with their department. Most everything is provided, including textbooks, software and other resources.

The statistics lab, known to statistics students as the “Stat Lab,” provides computers and free printing for anything related to the major. The Stat Lab also has textbooks needed for statistics classes, so Schumann hasn’t had to purchase any textbooks for his major.

“I actually haven’t had to pay for anything, really,” Schumann said. “Most of my payment for textbooks comes from other classes, like general [education classes] or if I actually want the textbook for later in life.”

Additionally, MiniTab, JMP, SAS and other industry software is provided on Cal Poly’s server at no cost to students.

“There’s one software that’s actually really, really expensive but we’re all able to download it on our computers for a year and you can renew it while you’re still here,” Schumann said. “The software costs like $1,000 or something. It’s something absurd.”

While Cal Poly’s website estimates tuition and fees at $9,432, the total cost of attendance may be more than expected, depending on choice of major and whether or not a student is in CLA. A list of estimated course fee amounts is available online.

“The university believes strongly in transparency and providing all available information to its current and prospective students,” university spokesperson Matt Lazier wrote in an email to Mustang News.

According to Lazier, Cal Poly’s Learn by Doing style of education costs more in general, leading some majors and courses to require additional fees for materials and resources. The university implemented the Student Success Fee in 2012 to help alleviate some costs due to “waning financial support from the state.”

“The fees have helped maintain the quality of a Cal Poly education,” Lazier wrote. “Unfortunately, they do not cover all costs associated with Learn by Doing.”

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