Cal Poly should consider increasing student enrollment by as much as 5,000, president says

newsroom@thetribunenews.comSeptember 16, 2013 

By the year 2022, Cal Poly could be home to nearly 25,000 students, stretching the capabilities of campus and city alike.

President Jeffrey Armstrong told faculty and staff Monday that the university should continue to grow enrollment, and hopefully increasing Cal Poly population’s by 4,000 to 5,000 students over the next few years.

This would raise the total number of students from just under 20,000 — 19,800 students are enrolled in the 2013-14 school year — to between 24,000 and 25,000.

“Enrollment growth is essential. California – really, the country -- needs more Cal Poly graduates,” Armstrong said at the annual Fall Conference. “However, the extent, nature and timing of growth are questions that we need to investigate with all of Cal Poly’s stakeholders — on campus and off.”

Besides the potential impact on the community, Armstrong said other factors, such as state funding, private support and the ability to physically accommodate new growth, must be taken into consideration before any action is taken.

Armstrong’s announcement was met with support, but also some hesitation, from San Luis Obispo residents worried about how that many additional students could harm the city’s tenuous “town and gown” relationship.

The addition of so many students would have a “huge impact” on San Luis Obispo, Mayor Jan Marx told the Tribune on Monday. “I think it will take an effort — both by the city and Cal Poly — to manage it.”

Marx’s main worry is the negative impact an increase in rentals – as opposed to owner-occupied properties -- would have on the city.

Currently, the ratio sits at about 60 percent rentals versus 40 percent owner-occupied properties, she said. With the addition of around 5,000 students, the demand could easily shift to favor even more rental properties, which would result in a population that is constantly overturning, with only a few permanent residents.

This would be bad for the community, Marx said.

To combat this, Marx hopes Cal Poly will work with the city, both by submitting official numbers to the Planning Commission which is working on its updated plan for 2030, and taking a strong look at the impacts.

From a police standpoint, there is concern that adding that many students would increase the number of incidents involving college-age individuals, said Capt. Chris Staley, public information officer for the San Luis Obispo Police Department.

“I would assume if you are adding that many students, there will be more (incidents),” Staley said. “That age group, we have a fairly large amount of contact with already, especially in the nighttime hours.”

Staley said it largely depends on how quickly that many students will be added, though.

At the conference, Armstrong promised the university would look into all of the potential negative impacts on the community, as well as the economic impact on the city and region, before exploring large-scale growth.

At the campus level, this means addressing what facilities the campus would need for classes, labs, offices, student housing and dining.

The university already faced a tight squeeze with this year’s freshman class.

Cal Poly Housing had to free up an entire building in its continuing student residence community, Poly Canyon Village, to accommodate the 4,750-person freshman class — the largest in its 110-year history. That left many continuing students searching off campus for housing. But in the future, the school hopes to be able to offer all students on-campus housing for at least two years, Cal Poly Director of Housing Preston Allen said.

To accomplish this, Cal Poly will need to do a lot more building, Allen said.

The university announced in the spring that it will pursue building a new residence hall near its Grand Avenue entrance.

That construction has yet to be finalized or approved, and would not be completed until the 2018-19 school year.

Once completed, the construction would add 1,400 beds to campus, bringing the total to just more than 8,300.

“Housing is always a necessity … There’s always more housing in the works,” Allen said. “I’m good to build (a new residence hall) every year if we have to.”

Besides the proposed Grand Avenue residence hall, there is talk that the old Pacheco Elementary School property on Slack Street could be converted into multi-family apartments, Marx said. These apartments would be highly desirable for Cal Poly students given their location near the school’s front entrance.

If that happens, then a huge population of college-age students would be concentrated around Grand Avenue, Marx said.

“I live in that area,” Marx said, “and 25,000 students in that small area could be a very serious situation. … But if it can be planned in such a way that the impacts are looked at long and hard, I’m optimistic we can work together.”

***

The Fall Conference, an annual presentation by the university’s top administrators, marks the beginning of each new school year. Armstrong, as well as Provost Kathleen Enz Finken and several other school representatives, spoke on the issues facing the university in the upcoming school year.

Among the topics discussed were the need for more private funding if the university hopes to continue to grow, the necessity for a diverse and inclusive educational climate, future plans for establishing a better teacher-scholar model and continued efforts to improve Cal Poly’s four and six- year graduation rates.

Currently, about 75 percent of students graduate within six years, while about 31 percent graduate in four years, Cal Poly said. Armstrong said Cal Poly’s six-year graduation rate needs to be at least 90 percent by 2022, and the four-year graduation rate must at least double.

Armstrong also said that the new Center for Science and Mathematics will be open to students next week and will be formally dedicated as the Warren J. Baker Center for Science and Mathematics at a ceremony Nov. 1. Cal Poly President Emeritus Baker, for whom the new center will be named, was in attendance.

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