This is the second installment in our Demystifying the Money series, which breaks down Cal Poly student tuition and fees. Check back next Monday for our third installment on ASI fees.
One decade ago, Cal Poly students voted in favor of College-Based Fees (CBF), a set of special academic fees unique to each college, where students have a say in how to spend funds. Full-time students would pay a quarterly fee of either $200 or $150 — both plus inflation — depending on their college, and then help choose how that money was spent.
Since 2002, when the fees were first put in place, the state has faced a major budget crisis, and Cal Poly has weathered millions of dollars in budget cuts. Those same fees, which had broad scholastic applications when voted in, have been almost entirely directed to retaining faculty and offering enough classes to meet demand in nearly every college.
The fees — originally intended to broaden students’ Cal Poly education — now serve simply to keep the status quo, said College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Science dean David Wehner.
“What started out as enrichment and things has evolved just into helping keep the doors open,” Wehner said.
College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Science (CAFES)
Originally, CAFES proposed a plan for the distribution of funds where the dean’s office kept 10 percent of all money raised to fund projects and equipment that would benefit all students in the college, while the other 90 percent was divided between the departments.
Students served on committees at both the department and college level to decide how those funds would be spent, Wehner said.
During the first year, CBF funds were used to buy equipment for the departments, as well as fund new computer lab resources that students voted for.
“For 2002 to 2003, we did all kinds of stuff: bought things, trips, equipment — all kinds of stuff,” Wehner said.
Each year since, though, the college’s budget has been cut to the point that students haven’t met with the dean this year to advise on funds. Almost all the funds are going toward keeping class sections open, Wehner said.
College of Liberal Arts
The story is similar in the College of Liberal Arts, where 97 percent of CBF money is used to fund classes. In total, liberal arts CBF pay the salaries of more than 18 full-time faculty positions, College of Liberal Arts dean Linda Halisky said.
The college divides its CBF money up between departments based on head count. Originally, Halisky said she let departments and students choose almost entirely on their own how to spend the money. With budget cuts, though, Halisky said she keeps a closer eye on CBF money.
“When we give the students choice, we say, ‘You may choose, but we want you to choose classes,’” Halisky said.
Several departments still use some of their CBF money to fund clubs and educational trips, but most of the money is going toward salaries and classes at the moment, Halisky said.
College of Engineering
Similarly, students have had their choices restricted at the College of Engineering, where money that once went to pay for lab equipment and projects is now going almost entirely to salaries, mechanical engineering junior John Waldrop said. Waldrop serves on the mechanical engineering CBF committee.
“When the school had money, we had a plan where 50 percent went to lecturers and 40 percent went to labs,” Waldrop said. “Additionally, we would spend 10 percent on senior projects. Now, since the budget kind of sucks, the (mechanical engineering) department has to take almost all their funding just to ensure we have classes.”
Budget cuts had the same effect in all the engineering departments, former Engineering Student Council president and Cal Poly graduate Dylan Pavelko said.
Several different CBF committee members came to Pavelko while he was president last year to express their concern that less CBF money was available for equipment and engineering projects, Pavelko said. He took their complaints to Debra Larson, the new dean of the college of engineering, and discovered that the CBF money was used to make up losses from budget cuts.
“Almost across the board, the fees started getting absorbed into the budget just to pay for salaries,” Pavelko said.
The student committees were unhappy with their lack of voice, Pavelko said, but saw the money was needed to keep essential engineering courses available. The committees and dean’s office struck a deal that all budgetary information would be available to the students. Now, if some funds are available, the student fee committees can allocate that extra money, Pavelko said.
In mechanical engineering, the CBF committee had $30,000 to allocate to projects and labs this year after faculty was paid, but in smaller, newer departments, funds are tighter because there are less private donors, Pavelko said.
College of Architecture and Environmental Design
Student members of CBF committees in the College of Architecture and Environmental Design also felt the budget.
Most students don’t even see the CBF money, said construction management senior Emily Pool, who has served on construction management’s CBF committee for three years.
“It’s not even called College Based Fees anymore for us,” Pool said.
Most of the money goes toward paying for salaries and keeping classes and labs open, which is essential to students’ education, Pool said.
The construction management CBF committee is now more of a field trip planning club, Pool said. They have the right to request funds from the department if students would like to plan a trip or project, and the money is often provided, Pool said.
“We just decide what we want to do and we propose it to the department and they work their magic from there,” Pool said.
Most of that money doesn’t even come from fees, but from private donors and fundraising, said College of Architecture and Environmental Design dean R. Thomas Jones.
CBF money is distributed proportionally throughout the departments to keep as many courses open as possible, Jones said.
“Of the cuts absorbed, we absorb them proportionally to the amount of money needed to teach the courses,” Jones said.
The college’s priority is keeping classes open because of their sequential nature, Jones said. If one class is unavailable, then that could put students behind an entire year in their graduation progress.
Some CBF money still goes to lab equipment and printers, but the college tries to obtain extra funds from outside donors, Jones said. Student CBF committees then get to decide how to spend the donated money.
In the architecture department, for example, students can pay $20 for a pass to use the printers, and the CBF committee decides how to use the proceeds, architecture junior and CBF committee member Mike Tam said.
Students’ priority is to keep classes and studio time open, and most of the money is used toward this end, Tam said.
“We are really just representing the student voice,” Tam said.
College of Science and Mathematics (COSAM)
COSAM has always had a commitment to keeping students involved in the allocation of CBF funds, and this has led to a strong student investment in those fees, COSAM dean Phil Bailey said.
“People say, ‘What? The students are determining what the tuition is going to be? That’s really weird,’” Bailey said. “It is weird, but it has really gotten our students invested in what their college does.”
In Bailey’s college, the money is not distributed proportionally to each department by student count. Instead, departments submit requests to the dean, who meets with a committee of students and faculty from each department to decide how the funds will be allocated.
Different majors need different amounts of money, depending on how technical they are, Bailey said. Statistics, for instance, does not have the same needs as kinesiology.
With all the departments conferring on how to distribute the money, though, Bailey said the college stays united.
“We decided we would be a college of science and mathematics, not just a collection of departments,” Bailey said.
However, funding cuts have hit this college much like the other colleges at Cal Poly. What was once a “game changer” for the college is now a way of bridging budget gaps and keeping courses open, Bailey said.
The fee’s original purpose was to increase class access, promote student and faculty research and travel and provide equipment and instrumentation, but it is now used almost entirely for class access.
“We aren’t able at this time to maintain the original intent,” Bailey said.
Orfalea College of Business
The only college whose CBF money has not been adversely affected by budget cuts is the Orfalea College of Business.
When the fees were first instituted, the dean’s office, faculty and students met to set out a plan for allocation, and that plan has remained relatively unchanged, said administrative assistant to the dean Sally Guess.
“The way we divide up our College Based Fees has not changed in many, many years — nothing has changed,” Guess said.
Approximately 70 percent of the money is used to pay for faculty and classes, while the rest of the money goes toward advising services, software and business periodicals, as well as bringing in speakers.