Cal Poly ranked number 50 on a list of “100 Best Values in Public Colleges 2009-10.” Cal Poly was the only California State University to make the list and climbed from a number 58 ranking in the study last year.
The list, released by Kiplinger’s Personal Finance, a Washington DC-based publication, gave Cal Poly the dead-center position in the yearly review based on factors including tuition, student-to-teacher ratios, graduation rates, retention rates and admissions rates.
Despite budget cuts that resulted in furloughs, department cuts and larger class sizes, Cal Poly is staying true to its core values, according to Provost Robert Koob.
“The ranking reaffirms that Cal Poly still offers a good, affordable education,” Koob said. “It’s a question of preserving options in the deficit.”
Koob said that there are two reasons Cal Poly climbed eight spots on Kiplinger’s list this year. The first is the increasing graduation rate and the second is increasing incoming student scores (SAT, ACT). The graduation rate is rising even more (it’s by far the highest in the CSU system) because of Cal Poly’s recent push to get students to graduate on time. The incoming student scores are rising because of more stringent application standards in admissions.
Cal Poly is number five on the list in terms of admissions with a 34 percent acceptance rate.
Cal Poly students said that they applied and came to the university because it offers a top-notch education for a fraction of the price of other schools like those in the University of California system or private colleges. This was one of the considerations in the Kiplinger list.
“One of the biggest draws was the $16,000-ish price for one of the best engineering colleges there is,” materials engineering sophomore Brent Plehn said. “Plus I love it here. From the college to the town, I would not want to go anywhere else.”
But not everyone is happy with the recent changes Cal Poly has undergone. Furloughs and class sizes have been discussed, protested and criticized across the campus this school year.
Melody DeMerritt, a Cal Poly English instructor of 33 years, said that Cal Poly’s educational value has dropped with budget cuts and increased fees.
“The big picture is ‘Everyone loves Cal Poly,’ but the small picture is the details department to department of what we’ve let go of,” DeMerritt said. “It makes education less relative to a student’s future work life.”
DeMerritt gave the example of an English student who, with the budget cuts, cannot get a technical writing certificate because the certification program was cancelled. Which English graduate gets a job? The one with the technical writing certification or the one without the certificate? DeMerritt said these losses are immeasurable.
Other faculty said that although the losses that Cal Poly has seen are unfortunate, administrators are doing as good a job as they can at keeping Cal Poly competitive with other universities.
“In general, Cal Poly is dealing with a bad situation pretty well,” political science assistant professor Matthew Moore said. “Given the limits on the financing we get from the state, I think Cal Poly has tried to figure out how to handle that and has done a pretty good job.”
Moore said that although furloughs aren’t ideal, they probably provide the least impact to students. Although the professors are there 10 percent less during the quarter, at least you can get to know your professors and talk to them in office hours, he said.
“One really nice thing about Cal Poly is we’ve hit the middle ground between, say, the UCs, where you’re going to be in large classes…and a liberal arts college where you might have a homogenous population,” Moore said. “It’s a larger school with a lot of different majors, a lot of different interests and at the same time you can walk down the hall and knock on your professors’ doors. You get the best of both worlds.”
Moore said he was optimistic about Cal Poly’s future and that the school continues to be a “pretty good bargain.”
Although class sizes have changed, teachers have been furloughed and budgets have been cut, Cal Poly and its students continue to change according to electrical engineering senior Michael Jenkins.
“It’s tough,” Jenkins said. “You understand why they have to make the cuts, but at the same time, I’ve had some frustrations getting classes.
“But you always find a way around it. I’m here for my fifth year, which isn’t great, but it works.”