The class of 2023 is already breaking records with an average high school GPA of 4.09, SAT of 1402, and ACT of 31, and acceptance rate of 28 percent.

The preliminary data given to Mustang News by Cal Poly’s Office of Institutional Research, which could change before being finalized in November, brings the university’s total enrollment back to 2014 levels at 21,107 total students.

Despite administration’s efforts to keep enrollment steady, decades of student overflow have impacted the university’s population since the 1940s. In the past 30 years, Cal Poly total enrollment has fluctuated as much as 2,000 students year-to-year. Fifteen of those years had a difference of more than 500 students.

“We were higher than we planned to be this fall,” Linda Dalton, interim associate provost for Institutional Planning said in 1997 according to archived editions of Mustang News.

“We have a lot more students than what administration had predicted,” 1996 ASI President Steve McShane told Mustang News when enrollment increased by 1,300. “It worries me because when you have more students coming in, the quality of education is going to diminish.”

The Institutional Research office in 1974 also recorded “a higher than expected ‘show rate’ and more continuing students than expected are being credited with the 10.5 percent increase in students enrolled,” which accidentally increased enrollment by 1,375.

“There are just too many students and not enough faculty,” former Director of Admissions and Records Jerald Holley said in 1970.

Enrollment dropped when World War II broke out, as well as when the economy suffered, Coordinator of Reference and Instruction in the university’s Special Collections and Archives Laura Sorvetti said.

The 1940s GI Bill caused enormous growth, tripling enrollment. Without enough available housing after the surge, 200 students slept in cots in the gymnasium, and even more lived in Camp San Luis Obispo, according to a September 1947 edition of El Mustang, the student newspaper. Visiting students, without any room left for them to sleep, stayed the night in classrooms according to an August 1948 edition of El Mustang, and an April edition from the same year joked that the upside of the impaction was that people slept in churches on weekdays as well as Sundays.

“Considering the accommodations they had, what the campus was built for, it was really a lot of growing pains,” Sorvetti said.

Now, Cal Poly’s enrollment goals rely on available faculty, faculty density, amount of faculty offices, and number of classrooms, according to Vice Provost for Enrollment Development and Chief Marketing Officer James Maraviglia. 

Through a “rollercoaster of budgets and bad budget times,” administration’s primary goals are set on managing enrollment in each college, Maraviglia said. Cal Poly has to manage its enrollment specifically within majors and colleges — an idea made clear to applicants when required to declare their major before becoming a student.

Students who entered the university during the bump in 2017 can still feel the implications of exceeded capacity. Two years ago, Cal Poly’s enrollment for freshmen surpassed its goal of 4,451 by 802 students. Cal Poly had eliminated the option for early decision, since students dependent on financial aid couldn’t commit that early, changing the prediction models admissions relied on. To compensate, the class of 2022 undershot target enrollment by 2 percent — bringing in 88 fewer students than anticipated, according to data from Cal Poly’s Office of Institutional Research.

As the university gains popularity and the number of applicants increases, acceptance rates continue to lower. The rate of acceptance for first-time freshman decreases by around 0.87 percentage points each year. With more high scoring students applying, the pace of Cal Poly’s growth is not expected to slow down in the near future.

Maraviglia said he attributes the growth to the dedication of faculty members to their students as well as the strength of the Cal Poly brand.

“I think the people are the difference maker — the students, the faculty and the staff. It’s a community here.” Maraviglia said. “I don’t wanna say we have the best students in the western United States, but you guys are fantastic.”

Correction: The current freshman class was changed from 2024 to 2023.

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