Almost seven years after implementing college based fees as a supplement to regular tuition, Cal Poly now finds itself in the midst of a state budget crisis, and is looking to you – the students – to further help foot the bill of your own education.

Students will have the opportunity to submit an advisory vote to Cal Poly President Warren Baker on March 11 and 12 on a proposal to increase college based fees to $362 per quarter for full-time students, effective fall 2009. If approved, the fee will increase an additional $100 per quarter in fall 2010 and another $100 in fall 2011 for full-time students. Part-time students face a $181 increase this fall quarter and $50 the two fall quarters following.

The university’s current budget crisis stems from years of compounded shortfalls. Cal Poly operates largely under rules set in place by the California State University system. From that level, Cal Poly receives mandates for everything from faculty and administrative salaries to student enrollment minimums. Much of Cal Poly’s current budget crisis stems from the fact that despite enrollment increases mandated by the CSU Chancellor’s office, the CSU system has repeatedly failed to deliver on its promise of providing Cal Poly with state funding to match the increase in the number of students.

As a result, Cal Poly has experienced significant budget shortfalls over the past several years, totaling approximately $25 million according to the fee proposal.

Cal Poly Interim Provost Robert Koob said that he once told President Baker, “It’s not that you have too little money, it’s that you have too many students.”

Often considered the most prestigious university in the CSU system, Cal Poly is able to expand its enrollment because of the massive application pool each year, Koob explained. “The chancellor says that since we can grow, we should. Yet what makes Cal Poly so appealing is historically small class sizes and individualized education,” he said. “It doesn’t make sense. We’re dealing with very large political bureaucracies here.”

From 1994 to 2007, total Cal Poly enrollment increased 38.3 percent from 14,292 students to a record 19,777. That high was a 5.6 percent increase over the previous year. In fall 2008, due to state budget cuts, Cal Poly was forced to decrease enrollment by 1.5 percent, with a total of 19,471 students enrolled.

Associated Students Inc. President Angela Kramer reiterated Koob’s statement that Cal Poly’s budget shortfall issue stems from continuing pressure from the state level to increase enrollment, without proportionate state funding.

As a result, college based fees are being looked at as a way to fill the budget gap, signaling a move towards the broad-based trend of public universities being increasingly funded by the students themselves, rather than by taxpayers through state subsidies.

“You know, the state used to subsidize 90 percent of our education. Now that’s down to 62 percent,” Kramer said. “It’s shocking.”

“It’s my opinion that students shouldn’t have to be asked for this money,” she said, although she acknowledged that given the current state budget crisis, expecting increased and continued taxpayer support isn’t particulary feasible.

“If this does pass, it should still make the point that we need to reevaluate how we manage funds… poor budget decisions are what got us here,” she continued.

Broadly speaking, the passage of the fee increase will cushion the negative impact of the state-funding gap and generally allow Cal Poly to maintain its standard of education, Koob said.

“It’s not a question of whether the school will close or not, or if there will be a Cal Poly or not. The question is whether students want to keep the Cal Poly and the quality of education that they’ve enjoyed in the past,” he said.

Should it not pass, the implications are harder to predict and vary by college, but will likely mean a massive reduction in classes offered and possible layoffs of part-time and adjunct faculty, Koob said. Tenured faculty will be asked to teach more classes as a result, class sizes will be larger and less electives and non-required classes will be offered.

“I don’t have a single program that I can look at and say we don’t need,” Koob said. “What that means is that we have to start cutting classes within programs. Those not needed for graduation will go first.”

College based fees, which are unique to the Cal Poly campus, were implemented in 2002 through a student referendum similar to the one now being proposed for the increase. As the name indicates, and unlike regular tuition fees, college based fees are controlled and distributed within each college by the deans and department chairs and with mandatory student input provided through student fee advisory committees.

Yet unlike the original college based fees – which were intended to offer supplementary funding for each college for anything from additional classes to new faculty and lab equipment – the increase will act more as a filler to help the colleges balance their budgets and maintain the same standards of education currently offered, Koob said.

For fiscal year 2009-10, the fee increase is projected to generate about $6,900,000 in additional revenues for the university, according to the official proposal published by the university. Once fully implemented, it will represent a total of $20,600,000 in additional funding.

In the long term, Koob said the university is cutting costs where it can. Most significantly, a new registration system, which will be put in place for fall 2009 enrollment, looks to streamline the registration process and guarantee students that they can graduate in four or five years, depending on their degree program.

Yet despite efforts to operate Cal Poly on a leaner budget, Koob said the university can’t promise that college based fees won’t increase again in the future. “I can’t say we’ll never ask for another CBF increase because we don’t know what the state is going to do,” he said.

Students vote next week through their My Cal Poly portals and will be asked whether or not they attended informational sessions regarding the proposed fee increase and whether or not they support the fee increase. Depending on their vote, they will then be asked a series of follow-up questions, including where they think funding should be prioritized if the increase passes or a list of reasons to describe why they aren’t supportive of the increase. At least a 38 percent student turnout is required for the vote to even be considered valid.

The student vote will then be submitted to President Baker, who has the final say. Both Koob and Kramer said that the president is highly unlikely to go against student sentiment, but that it is possible that he could in some way further modify the proposal.

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