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Cal Poly President Jeffrey Armstrong gave two presentations last week about the recently proposed College Based Fees (CBF) increase, which would increase Cal Poly’s total in-state cost by nearly 20% for students enrolled after the 2025-26 school year.

In order to increase mandatory fees, Armstrong is required to either conduct a student referendum (students voting “yes” or “no”) or use advisory alternative consultation, which according to Armstrong means to “review and … discuss this with the representatives of our faculty, staff and students through shared governance.”

For the CBF, Armstrong is using alternative consultation by presenting the proposal to staff and the student body and receiving questions and feedback until Feb. 4. 

The incoming 2022-23 freshman class would pay a CBF of $1,361-$1,948 (depending on college) instead of the current $648-$1,044 fee. The fee will increase four times until 2025-26 for each freshman class when it would cap at $3,600-$4,600. 

The fee varies among Cal Poly’s six colleges and is adjusted each year for inflation. According to Cal Poly’s presentation on the CBF, 60% of the revenue generated from the fee will fund financial aid while 40% will go towards “academic opportunities.”

In his presentation at an ASI Board of Directors meeting and student forum last week, Armstrong said Cal Poly completely covers tuition and fees for 15% of students, which is lower than the 49% average at all other CSU campuses. He also said that the CSU now funds “high-investment majors” at a lower rate than they used to as state funding — Cal Poly’s highest revenue source — has declined in recent years.

The increased CBF is intended to help fill those funding gaps. The fee would be higher for the higher investment Colleges of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Sciences, Architecture and Environmental Design, and Engineering. More information about specific college fee breakdowns can be found here.

Armstrong said increasing the CBF would create more equal access to Cal Poly for Californians with household incomes under $150,000, pay faculty more competitive salaries and support Cal Poly’s academic mission by providing more comprehensive educational and research opportunities for students.

“[For low-income students], we are more expensive than the UCs,” Armstrong said. “[That is] the main reason students turn down Cal Poly.”

Armstrong said that the CBF increase will provide enough financial aid to completely offset the fee for students with household incomes under $150,000 and create additional aid for those under $90,000.

“It may seem counterintuitive that we want to make Cal Poly more affordable by raising fees,” Armstrong said. “But this is a method that many public universities and private universities have been using for many years.”

Armstrong answers student questions

During a Thursday Zoom forum Q&A, a participant asked why Cal Poly’s CBF doesn’t already go to financial aid, especially when the existing fee is “drastically higher than other CSU campuses.”

Armstrong acknowledged this and compared Cal Poly’s tuition and fees to University of California campuses, saying that despite this, Cal Poly is currently cheaper to high-income students than UC schools but more expensive to low-income students.

Armstrong said that even though students with household incomes above $150,000 will pay more, they would still benefit from the colleges’ increased funding.

“Is it fair to ask students to pay for this?” Armstrong asked. “In an ideal world, no, but in the actual world? Yes.”

Architectural engineering sophomore Surina Marwaha expressed concern that once Cal Poly shifts to the semester system, increasing the CBF would mean students would virtually be paying more for a “subpar education.”

Armstrong responded by saying that the semester transition has been carefully thought out, but did not explicitly address the concern of paying more for a semester education. 

Another forum participant asked how the CBF increased lines up with Gov. Gavin Newsom’s recent budget proposal, which includes a 5% funding increase if Cal Poly meets diversity and equity goals. Armstrong responded that the proposal doesn’t cover Cal Poly’s funding deficits due to the costs of high-investment majors. 

“There are just simply too many needs to expect our unique situation to be handled outside of Cal Poly,” Armstrong said. “I wish that were not true, but the analysis is very clear.”

Electrical engineering senior Carlos Gonzalez, a member of the Educational Opportunity Program (EOP), said he thinks the CBF increase is good, but believes that Armstrong is trying to bury EOP under CP Scholars so that the Scholars program gets aid while the other two get no additional funding.

“The idea behind it makes sense, like creating more financial aid for students, but it comes down to more how it actually ends up being implemented,” Gonzalez said.

Armstrong said that increasing the CBF would increase academic funding for smaller class sizes, field experiences and hands-on experiments within students’ majors, among other examples. It will also help the university hit its faculty tenure track goal of 75%, which is currently at 62%.

Neither low-income out-of-state students nor California students whose parent incomes might be slightly above $150,000 but who can’t afford Cal Poly due to California’s cost of living would be eligible for the financial aid the CBF would create. Armstrong lamented these factors as “the two weaknesses in the plan.”

“No plan is perfect,” Armstrong said. “But we know those are areas that need enhancement. We are indeed hoping that the state of California will do more in the middle-class scholarships over time.”

Cal Poly Vice President Keith Humphrey added that University Housing intends to add at least $500,000 a year to financial aid packages to further offset the cost to lower-income students while the CBF increase occurs.

When asked Thursday whether represented faculty apart from budget personnel would be included on the advisory committee, Armstrong said he would “take that request under advisement.”

“We don’t want to change things on the fly,” Armstrong said. “I just want to say we are open to input and all input.”

Armstrong said that he did not want to postpone discussions about the CBF despite nearly 1,000 Cal Poly students either staying home or being isolated due to COVID-19, saying that the timing of Omicron was “not our choosing.”

“Every year we delay [the CBF discussion], that’s another year that students don’t have access to Cal Poly,” he said. “I think [now is] an appropriate time to continue it.”

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