Mustang News sat down with Cal Poly President Jeffrey Armstrong about his latest program to maximize enrollment and campus space

Armstrong announced the ‘Year Round Operation’ initiative during his opening speech for Fall Convocation — one of the many efforts discussed to increase student enrollment and accommodate a growing campus. 

Seventeen of the 23 CSU campuses saw drops in student enrollment in 2021, including Cal Poly.

Gov. Gavin Newsom made a compact with the CSUs in Jan. 2023, giving the system a 5% increase in state budgeting each year for the following five years. In exchange, the campuses must reach enrollment targets — an increase of 10,000 “residential full-time students” systemwide in the five-year agreed period.  

“So we felt for a long time, that year-round is a way for Cal Poly to grow in a sustainable way and make more efficient use of our facilities,” Armstrong told Mustang News. “Think of it as beds, classrooms, and labs; we just simply have more investment in many of our majors in those facilities.”

The idea of the initiative started in 2019, but due to COVID-19 complications, the project launch was delayed. The initiative will not interfere with the Master Plan to enroll 25,000 students by 2035.

CSU’s $1.5 billion funding gap demands increased student enrollment

Student tuition is one of the “principle sources of revenue,” according to an analysis made by the Sustainable Financial Model Workgroup in May 2023. 

Earlier this month, the CSU Board of Trustees approved the CSU tuition hike. Increasing tuition prices and student enrollment efforts will contribute to raising revenue and closing the system’s growing $1.5 billion funding gap.

In addition to the new increase systemwide, Cal Poly students pay additional campus fees, including the college-based fee and the Cal Poly opportunity fee. The college-based fee underwent an increase in 2022, allocating 60% of the fee towards financial aid. Meanwhile, the opportunity fee started increasing fees in 2019 for out-of-state undergraduate students with 50% of the fee revenue to financial aid for the Cal Poly scholars program. 

This year, an additional $8 million generated from the Cal Poly campus and opportunity fees will be available in new financial aid, according to Armstrong.

In particular, the increased fees are aimed at helping Pell Grant recipients and students from low-income backgrounds through increased financial aid. 17% of Cal Poly’s students are Pell Grant recipients, the lowest percentage of the 23 CSU schools, according to data from the National Center for Education Statistics

To accommodate the growing student population and accounting for the initiative, there’s an additional focus on recruiting more faculty and staff. Faculty interested in offering off-term classes would be paid additional compensation, according to Armstrong’s convocation speech. 

On Monday, Lisa Kawamura said the California Faculty Association will be moving from a bargaining stage to a fact-finding stage with the Chancellor’s Office with their demand for a 12% increase in faculty pay. 

“If your manager is being tasked to plan for a strike, then perhaps you should plan for one too,” CSUEU Cal Poly chapter president Tom Randall said at the Fall Convocation. “It’s not because we want a strike. It’s because we are investing in this system.” 

Among increasing student enrollment are the efforts to diversify and encourage Black students to apply and attend Cal Poly. One includes high school outreach — namely a partnership with the Rex and Margaret Fortune Early College High School located in Elk Grove, CA.  

Armstrong said the incoming class has surpassed last year as the most diverse class, pointing out that 28% of incoming students identify as Hispanic/Latino and that Cal Poly “is on the cusp of becoming a Hispanic-serving institution.” 

“Being a Hispanic-serving institution is really important and it’s not just about being over 25% Hispanic, Latino, it’s also about being about serving,” Armstrong said. “And that’s where I feel that we do a good job with our Cal Poly scholars, with our cultural centers, the Latinx Center, and many other things that we’re doing.”

Cal Poly maneuvers physical spacing to accommodate more students

Due to last year’s efforts to increase student enrollment, the incoming class consists of 5,200 freshmen and 900 transfer students. A record high of 8,800 students are housed on campus, despite no additional housing units being built. 

“We’ve also learned over the years that we can increase capacity in yakʔitʸutʸu,” Armstrong said. “Rooms that were originally quite large had three students, then four students and now they have five students.” 

Armstrong also said that future off-campus student housing could include projects that would allow students to study abroad or participate in “high-impact” activities without signing a year-round lease for rental units. 

“I’m hoping we can have, you know, housing off campus in the future that where students could come in and out and not have to pay that 12-month lease, which would help with the overall bed supply in the community just like we’re gonna do on campus,” he said.

To further help with opening campus space, Cal Poly will renovate a lot near the San Luis Obispo airport, a project called the Cal Poly Mustang Business Park. The lot will be space for “non-student facing” staff such as accounting or finance services to increase available on-campus facilities. According to Armstrong, the park anticipates opening 40-45,000 square feet on campus, with 12,000 of the square footage to be used in Fall 2024. 

In addition to the Cal Poly Mustang Business Park, the Kennedy Library renovations will continue and the 1901 Dining complex is expected to open in January 2024. 

“It’s kind of a combination of Cal Poly has the ability, and the CSU needs the enrollment growth, but we have obstacles of space,” Armstrong said. “We need to be able to hire more faculty and staff, we need to free up the building, free up space.”