Cuesta College student Austin Kraintz applied to Cal Poly in 2009 but wasn’t accepted as an environmental engineering major for this academic year.
So the 23-year-old San Luis Obispo High School graduate with a 3.1 GPA at Cuesta stayed another year in community college. In 2010, he applied to Cal Poly again for the upcoming fall quarter and found out this week that he was put on the wait list.
“I think after this year, if I don’t eventually get in, it won’t be Cal Poly or bust,” Kraintz said. “I’ll start looking hard at other colleges.”
The number of Cuesta College students who have transferred to Cal Poly has dropped from a 10-year peak of nearly 500 in 2004 to 186 in this year’s class.
Cuesta had at least 300 students transfer to Cal Poly each year between 1989 and 2007 — and most of those years had at least 400. But the transfer numbers have hovered around 200 the past three years.
The average GPA for all transfer students to Cal Poly was 3.42 in 2010, compared with a 3.84 average GPA for high school students who get accepted.
Cal Poly gives extra consideration to all state community college students and those whose home is on the Central Coast.
But local preference is minor compared with consideration of grades and whether a student has completed courses aligned with a major’s curriculum, according to Cal Poly officials.
They attribute the decline primarily to budget shortfalls in state funding over the past few years, which have reduced space available for new students.
But many factors may affect whether a student gets into Cal Poly — including how much space is available in a given major and whether the university is expanding or limiting enrollment in a program each year.
One example came from 2010 when the College of Liberal Arts accepted 5 percent of transfer applicants compared with 27 percent in the College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Sciences — which has more space for students.
Last fall, 2,612 undergraduate liberal arts students enrolled compared with 3,670 agriculture students. Cal Poly’s largest college, the College of Engineering, had 4,861 students.
James Maraviglia, Cal Poly’s admissions director, said state funding covered 17,300 students in 2009-2010 compared with about 15,702 in 2010-2011.
“Space is limited to the enrollment funding that we receive for in-state students,” Maraviglia said. “Students need to look beyond the minimum requirements to best prepare to be a competitive transfer applicant. Those who do tend to do very well.”
Maraviglia said Cal Poly is planning to accept more out-of-state student enrollment for the fall this year.
The university expects to be able to fund about 16,000 in-state students and enroll about 1,200 out-of-state students, which is about 100 more than this year.
Regardless of how many out-of-state students enroll, the 16,000 in-state student population won’t change.
Cuesta sends more community college students to Cal Poly than any other campus in the state each year, and typically has among the highest rate of admission, along with Allan Hancock College in Santa Maria.
About 24 percent of Cuesta students who applied were admitted to Cal Poly in fall 2010 compared with 26 percent of Hancock students.
Blake Reed, Cuesta’s transfer center coordinator, said the college is familiar with Cal Poly’s application process and encourages all students to make sure they’re taking the classes they need toward a successful transfer.
Some students mistakenly think they just need to complete their general education requirements to get into Cal Poly, but they also need to complete courses related to their intended major, Reed said.
Reed said Cuesta also has a sense of which majors at Cal Poly are more impacted than others. Some liberal arts majors, for example, have fewer openings than larger programs at Cal Poly, such as engineering and agriculture.
“We pretty much live and breathe Cal Poly here and know the process well so our students are well prepared when they apply,” Reed said.
Twenty-two-year-old Cuesta student Brittany Stockdale is waiting with crossed fingers to hear whether she’ll be accepted into Cal Poly with a major in English.
The Pacific Beach High School graduate has good grades and a part-time job as a local legal administrative assistant, and she’s on the board of the local Martin Luther King Jr. scholarship program.
“Cal Poly is becoming more and more competitive,” Stockdale said. “So, it’s a little worrying to see what will happen. I’ve lived in this area since I was 3, and lots of friends and family ask, ‘When are you going to Cal Poly?’ ”