Tessa Hughes is a journalism sophomore and Mustang News columnist. The views expressed do not necessarily represent those of Mustang News.
College is expensive, so imagine having to pay more for your education in order to finance students other than yourself. This is what Cal Poly is having current out-of-state students do as of this fall. While the program that the money subsidizes is noble, the university is supporting certain students at the cost of others.
This year’s out-of-state freshman class now pays an additional $2,010 every year under the guise of an “opportunity fee,” bringing the total to $23,832 for tuition and fees alone per year.
Portions of this new fee are going directly to the Cal Poly Scholars program. This program, according to the university’s website, “seeks to recruit and retain high-achieving, low-income students from California schools while providing support through financial, academic, and community resources.” Well, these “community” resources are their fellow students.
Now, the program put in place is phenomenal. It is a great way to help support students who come from difficult circumstances. However, by funneling a portion of the money from the opportunity fee directly into the Scholar’s program, the university is prioritizing certain students over others in a very apparent way — they are essentially telling out-of-state students that they are less important than every other student.
The university is using this fee as one of its famous diversity pushes. In an interview with Mustang News last year, University President Jeffery Armstrong said, “The goal is to remove the barrier for our low-income students. They also happen to be the most diverse students.”
The lack of diversity on campus is not the fault of the out-of-state students, but of the school. Yet, it is the students that are paying the price.
Cal Poly needs to be more diverse, but up-charging out-of-state students isn’t the answer. By doing this, the university is also ignoring the diversity that out-of-state students bring to the table. The answer is admitting more students from diverse backgrounds and cultivating an environment where these students can feel safe.
This plan ignores low-income students that aren’t from California. Out-of-state students might feel more inclined to pay more if it were going to help represent more students similar to them.
“If you are asking out-of-state students to pay more, it should cover the out-of-state students that are also low income,” out-of-state freshman Jack Sirich said. “I would feel less taken advantage of if it was for the entire country, but singling it down to solely California makes me feel like, yeah, [the school] is taking advantage or under-prioritizing me, [because] we generally have more money because we are paying to go out of state.”
This fee, which was initially introduced in February 2018, was meant for the out-of-state students for the fall of that year, but was put on hold due to student upset.
Mustang News reported that “the lack of transparency about the allocation of funds from the fee was a main issue to be addressed.”
In the original plan, students would be charged an additional $2,010 each year following the fee’s first year of instatement. This means out-of-state students this fall pay an annual fee of $4,020; the 2020 arrivals would pay $6,030; and the 2021 newcomers would pay $8,040 annually.
As they increase the fee each year, they might end up losing funding for the Cal Poly Scholars program because less out-of-state students will end up here. The school needs to find a balance that works to benefit its entire student body. A balance is also the only way the school will achieve their goal of true diversity.
At this point, the fee isn’t even the real issue. Rather, the problem lies in the fact that Cal Poly is yet again favoring students. The university got into this mess by not focusing on diversity, and they’re trying to get out of it by punishing those who did nothing wrong. On paper, this “opportunity fee” just looks bad.
Now, if the school needed more funding for their Scholars program, then they should have found it elsewhere. If they had taken money, for example, from another program and diverted that towards the Cal Poly Scholars program, then they could have instead put the money from the opportunity fee into the programs they withdrew other funds from. This way, the opportunity fee would be going towards a larger pool of resources that out-of-state students actually use. These campus resources are what make Cal Poly a truly great opportunity. The school would be gaining money, but it would be doing so in a way that does not show favoritism in the process.
The Scholars program is excellent in how it is benefiting and encouraging students, however, in the manor they are executing it they are isolating a lot of people. When it comes down to it, the fee isn’t the issue, it is how the school is handling their funds. Ultimately, students should not be expected to finance one another’s education. The university needs to change the allocation of their funding because discouraging other students in the process is not the way to do it.