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(Photo by Nha Ha)

Sean McMinn

With millions of dollars from this year’s Student Success Fee invested in access to classes, at least one indicator is showing positive signs for students unhappy with current offerings.

Students’ enrollment averaged 14.71 units during Winter 2012, said associate vice provost Kimi Ikeda, who plans to release a more detailed report of how the Student Success Fee is opening classes in June. It’s the highest mean number of units for winter since as recent as 2006, according to Cal Poly census reports available from the Office of Institutional Research.

The average unit increase from 2011 is also the second largest yearly increase since 2006.

“It’s not an easy solution or answer,” Ikeda said of Student Success Fee spending. “I’m hoping the students will see more access to classes.”

In a poll of 41 students Tuesday afternoon, only nine said it was easier to enroll in classes this year compared to the 2011-12 academic year. Fifteen said it’s been harder, and 17 said they haven’t noticed a change.

The Student Success Fee Allocation Advisory Committee recommended the majority of money from this year’s fee, approximately $5.8 million of $8.6 million, be spent on access to additional classes. But even with the funding, Ikeda said it was difficult to add professors this year because the Student Success Fee budget was not approved until spring. It didn’t leave enough time to search and hire new faculty for fall, she said.

“We couldn’t easily hire permanent faculty,” she said. “We could try and hire lecturers who were local or able to take on one or two classes without a full load.”

Where Cal Poly saw the biggest change was in lower division and general education courses, said University Registrar Cem Sunata. The Student Success Fee helped to alleviate “congestion” in those classes, he said.

Next year, however, administrators will have nearly seven months from when University President Jeffrey Armstrong approved the Student Success Fee budget in February until newly hired faculty begin this September. Because of this, Ikeda said, it will be easier for departments to hire new professors and, in turn, help students find room in classes they need to graduate.

There are no statistics to show how many professors Cal Poly will hire using Student Success Fee money, Ikeda said, because their salaries are a combination of regular university money and the fee. There are, however, numbers that show an increase in classroom seats available in Fall 2012.

According to an Academic Affairs quarterly report, Cal Poly added 10,338 total seats in classes during fall. The majority came in the College of Liberal Arts and College of Science and Mathematics, together totaling 7,200 new seats. The College of Engineering gained 1,445 seats, while the College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Sciences and College of Architecture and Environmental Design opened 840 and 724 spots, respectively. The Orfalea College of Business opened just 65 seats.

The disparity in increases is mainly because of the number of general education courses each college offers, Sunata said.

“A very large majority of general education courses are offered through the College of Liberal Arts, so every student, in a way, is a College of Liberal Arts student at least in their general education need,” he said. “And (College of Science and Mathematics Dean) Phil Bailey would say every student who needs general education courses in math and science are their students. So those two colleges support the university in general.”

Cal Poly used a combination of moving classroom locations, changing times of classes and increasing faculty funding to increase the available seats, Ikeda said.

In addition to changes from the university, Ikeda hopes students will make sacrifices to make it easier for them to find class times that work with both their schedules and the college’s.

“We’re doing what we can to increase access to classes, but students are part of the equation as well,” she said. “That means taking them at times that aren’t at a desired time and taking classes with faculty members who aren’t their preferred faculty.”

With a larger budget next year — the fee increases annually until Fall 2014, when it will cap at $260 per quarter — approximately $7.2 million will be spent on classes. Though it represents a 24 percent increase in dollars, it is a 3 percent decrease in the amount of the Student Success Fee overall budget aimed at opening classes.

Earlier this month, Associated Students, Inc. (ASI) President Katie Morrow said lowering the percentage was because of physical space on campus needed to hold additional classes.

Cal Poly implemented the Student Success Fee after a 2012 campus debate that led to a student vote in which 57 percent supported the fee. It began this past fall at $160 per quarter and will increase to $210 next fall before capping at $260 in Fall 2014.

Each year, a student majority committee makes a recommendation to Armstrong on how to spend the fee. The group, officially named the Student Success Fee Allocation Advisory Committee, is chaired by the ASI president and Cal Poly vice president of administration and finance.

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