In an ongoing effort to recruit more minority and low-income students to the university, the Cal Poly Opportunity Grant was introduced after campus-wide feedback and implemented in Fall 2019. Funding for the grant will come from the Opportunity Fee, which increased fees for out-of-state students.

The Opportunity Fee will be phased in until 2022 and is meant to cover campus-based costs not covered by financial aid, making the university more accessible to first-generation and low-income California students and more expensive for students who live out-of-state. 

Each incoming class of out-of-state and international students will pay $2,010 extra per year and, according to a Cal Poly news release. From 2014 to 2018, Cal Poly averaged around 750 out-of-state incoming freshmen and around 15 out-of-state transfer students, according to the 2018 Cal Poly Fact Book. 

Out-of-state tuition costs now total to $23,832, according to the Cal Poly website. In-state tuition costs $9,942. Returning out-of-state or international students were not affected by the price increase.

Why the university created the Opportunity Grant and Fee

Preliminary enrollment data showed that the Fall 2019 incoming class was 45 percent minority students, making it the most diverse class Cal Poly has had. Cal Poly has been named the least diverse university in the California State University (CSU) system. It also has a majority of students from the top 20 percent income bracket — making it among the highest of all California, according to a 2017 study conducted by The New York Times.

According to the study, Cal Poly also ranked first of 377 selective public colleges for median parent income, at $152,900. It also ranked No. 13 for share of students from the top 1 percent, or $630,000 or more a year.

On the other hand, Cal Poly ranked 362nd of 377 for share of students from the bottom fifth income bracket and 291 for overall mobility index, which measures the likelihood of a student moving up two or more income brackets.

Before the Opportunity Grant was introduced in 2018, the Opportunity Fee was vetted across campus to inform people of the benefits it could provide to the university, Vice President for Diversity & Inclusion Jozi De Leon said.

“[It is] providing an opportunity for us to focus financially to assist low income students because we know that if we’re going to diversify our student population, we have to pay attention to those students who don’t have the kind of access that we would want them to have,” De Leon said. “Quite frankly, the financial aid piece is a big one.”

The idea for the Opportunity Fee came out of the need to try and grow the Cal Poly Scholars Program as well as the high demand from out-of-state students for Cal Poly, President Jeffrey Armstrong said in an interview with Mustang News.

“We have been looking for many years on how to grow Cal Poly Scholars and we were growing it on a small level through donations,” Armstrong said. “We came up with the idea of, with our market, why not let’s charge more for non-California students … If you look at the demographics of our non-resident students, they’re 70 percent Caucasian and about 7 percent Pell [Grant], which is one indicator of financial need. Residential California students are about 22 percent pell and below 50 percentile Caucasian.”

While the fee will raise tuition for out-of-state students, Armstrong said Cal Poly still costs significantly less than any of the University of California (UC) system schools.

About 50 to 65 percent of the funds from the Opportunity Fee will go toward providing direct financial aid to low-income students, while 15 to 25 percent will go toward advising and student support for all students, and the remaining amount will be used to hire faculty, Armstrong said.

In addition to the grant, the money will go toward expanding the Cal Poly Scholars Program. The Cal Poly Scholars Program works to recruit and retain low-income students from California high schools by providing scholarships, academic support and a community of students from similar backgrounds.

“I am excited that we’ve got the Cal Poly Opportunity Fee approved,” Armstrong said. “I think that’s the biggest single thing we can do to impact diversity at Cal Poly ever.”

While Proposition 209 prevents public institutions like Cal Poly from accepting students or providing scholarships solely based on race, increasing access for low-income students will increase diversity as well, Armstrong said.

“The goal with the expansion of Cal Poly Scholars is to continue to expand financial aid and affect that yield and get more of our low-income, high-achieving students to attend Cal Poly,” Armstrong said. “The byproduct of that is that the majority of students in those categories are minorities, so if you look at the percentage of students that take the SAT in high school, they’re majority minority in California. So we’re just reflecting the population of California, which because of these barriers, we haven’t been.”

Student Perspectives

The Cal Poly Scholars Program is not only meant to recruit high-achieving, low-income students from California high schools, but also provide advising and support to these students during their time at Cal Poly.

For software engineering senior Cesar Chacon, being in the Cal Poly Scholars Program has helped him stay on track and focused, he said.

“When I first came here it was a pretty big culture shock … I remember my first day in the orientation day I was frantically looking around to try to find a familiar face,” Chacon said. “Just to have a place [Cal Poly Scholars Program] where there’s guaranteed going to be people that look like you or at least relate to you to some level is definitely helpful, and especially the extra advising they give, the extra support and attention they give you.”

Chacon is also on the board which helps to make decisions regarding the Opportunity Grant and how those funds should be allocated. He said the board is comprised of student representatives of different groups on campus, such as Associated Students, Inc. (ASI), Cal Poly Scholars and out-of-state students.

When the Opportunity Grant was first introduced, Chacon said the university had proposed starting a program to bring in more diversity, but he suggested to support the already established Scholars Program.

“My goal with all of this is just to get as much money going into the Scholars Program, with the intent, obviously, of bringing in more diverse students, but also letting everybody else have a piece of the cake,” Chacon said. “We don’t want to, like take all the money, basically, but we definitely want to make sure our program is equipped to do what we’re designed to do.”

As part of the Scholars Program, students also have to attend a certain amount of career or social-related events on campus every quarter, live on campus for two years and meet with an academic adviser every quarter, computer science senior and Cal Poly Scholars Program member Antonio Aguilar said.

While Aguilar said the Scholars Program has helped him adjust to the demographics and environment of Cal Poly, there is still progress to be made when it comes to the demographics of the student body.

“The population [of] California versus the population in Cal Poly is vastly different, and being that it’s a CSU and it needs to meet the interests of its population,” Aguilar said. “In order for the numbers to be what they need to be, there needs to be more of an effort to have to have programs like Cal Poly Scholars to increase the diversity and make it more resembling of actual California.”

Aguilar also said the university’s response to issues of diversity and inclusion, such as the blackface incident, could use improvement.

“It’s just more transparency on their end and when a situation does happen, for there to be very active condemnation, and for it to come immediately,” Aguilar said. “A clear reference of this would be the whole blackface incident. So, the condemnation from Armstrong came about once it hit The New York Times, once there were stories written about us, then he’s like, ‘Oh shit, I messed up, and everybody knows about it,’ as opposed to ‘Hey, my people of color, students know about this. I should speak up more loudly about it.’”

In response to students who may not think the university has done enough in the past to address issues of diversity and inclusion, Armstrong said administration has been working hard, but it is a longstanding problem that will take time.

Editor’s note: This article was originally written in April 2019. All information has been updated to accurately reflect current information.

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