Cal Poly has launched plans for a new grant program that aims to provide a jolt of financial aid to low-income students in an effort to increase diversity on a campus that is now more than 54 percent white.
“Qualified students from every demographic deserve exposure to our world-renowned Learn by Doing education,” Cal Poly President Jeffrey Armstrong said in announcing plans for the Cal Poly Opportunity Grant on Wednesday. “This transformational new grant would improve access for first-generation and low-income California students.”
The grant would “provide financial assistance for high-achieving, low-income California students who meet Cal Poly’s rigorous academic admission requirements but can’t afford to attend the university,” the school said in a news release.
Armstrong hopes the new initiative will attract students who will contribute to a campus that more closely resembles the diversity of California, something employers and those recruiting students are “increasingly demanding,” he said.
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The grant aims to cover the campus fees portion ($3,690) of the annual in-state tuition and fees package ($9,432). The high cost of campus fees, for which there is no form of state grant assistance, is what makes Cal Poly the most expensive school to attend in the CSU system, Armstrong said, and can deter students from attending the university.
The university is now reviewing the proposal with students in an advisory period that will run through March 14.
Paying for the grants
The university would pay for the new grants with a corresponding Cal Poly Opportunity Fee assessed on all newly enrolled, out-of-state students starting this fall. All current non-resident students would be exempt from the fee, the school said.
If the program is implemented as planned this fall, incoming out-of-state students would pay an additional fee of $2,010 per year throughout their undergraduate tenure at Cal Poly.
Each subsequent incoming out-of-state class would pay an increased amount, through the class of 2021. Out-of-state students in 2019 would pay an annual fee of $4,020; the 2020 arrivals would pay $6,030; and the 2021 newcomers would pay $8,040 annually.
Based on those cumulative increases, the Cal Poly Opportunity Fee would generate $1.64 million in revenue in 2018 and $4.85 million in 2019, with projections of $24.14 million in 2023.
Phasing in the benefits
The grant would benefit about 149 low-income students in 2018, another 861 in 2019, and more than 2,500 by 2023, though Armstrong said those are conservative estimates and he hopes the numbers will be higher.
“We should be serving over 3,000 students by 2023 if we’re leveraging these funds the way we should be,” Armstrong said.
Eventually, Armstrong said he would like to see as much as a third of the student body benefiting from the Cal Poly Opportunity Grant.
Officials said the program would reach beyond Cal Poly, with 15 percent of gross revenue from the fees being routed to the CSU Chancellor’s Office for financial aid and/or academic support for low-income students throughout the CSU system.
Of the remaining 85 percent of the revenue, 50 percent would go directly to funding the Cal Poly Opportunity Grant, 25 percent would go to support services for low-income, first-generation students, and the final 25 percent would go toward the general Cal Poly budget to be used at the discretion of the president.
Why out-of-state students?
Cal Poly chose to raise the money by increasing out-of-state fees because there is both a huge demand for those limited spots and increasing fees on in-state students is untenable, Armstrong said.
According to university research, total cost of attendance for Cal Poly’s out-of-state students in 2017-18 is nearly $40,000. The University of California system annual cost for an out-of-state student is estimated to be more than $60,000 per year, the school said.
Even with the increase, a Cal Poly education would still be more affordable for out-of-state students than attending a UC school.
The percentage of those students admitted to the university will continue to be capped at its current level of 15 percent, Armstrong said.
“We’re not going to lower the bar for admission for in-state versus out-of-state simply because they’re bringing in more revenue,” Armstrong said. “If we start seeing that slip, and we drop to like 14 percent, well, then we may not increase the fee after that. I don’t think that’s going to happen.”
We should be serving over 3,000 students by 2023 if we’re leveraging these funds the way we should be.
Cal Poly President Jeffrey Armstrong
Armstrong also emphasized the university is not projecting enrollment growth in the near future.
“If we see we can grow in 2022 or 2023, we’ll have a lot of discussions starting in 2020 with the city and everybody,” Armstrong said. “Barring surprises like we had with early decision, our plan is to be very thoughtful and deliberate and make sure that we graduate and take really good care of our students.”
The university suspended its early admissions process in 2016 in an effort to allow lower-income students to find out their financial aid status before deciding whether to attend Cal Poly. The move resulted in the university having about 1,000 more students on campus this fall than it originally planned.
‘Access to quality education’
Beginning as early as next fall, the Cal Poly Opportunity Grant would be aimed at the lowest income bracket among prospective students, but will be expanded to provide support to a “broader range of lower-income levels.”
Cal Poly officials said because racial and ethnic minorities and first-generation students are “over-represented among lower-income households,” the Cal Poly Opportunity Grant would make attending the school more affordable and, in turn, diversify the student population.
Cal Poly’s current ethnic breakdown is far less diverse than the overall averages for the CSU system.
For example, less than 20 percent of Cal Poly’s student body is Hispanic versus 40 percent overall for the CSU. About 55 percent of Cal Poly’s student body is white, versus about 23 percent overall for the CSU.
Jozi De Leon, vice president for diversity and inclusion and the university’s chief diversity officer, said it is imperative that Cal Poly’s student body reflects the demographics of California.
“Cal Poly’s student population has become more diverse each year since 2002, but we’re not where we want to be,” De Leon said. “All qualified students deserve access to quality education.”
The Cal Poly Opportunity Grant is modeled off the framework for the Cal Poly Scholars Program, which was created in 2012. That program provides scholarships for up to five years, a technology package, advising and other support to low-income and first-generation college students from California partner high schools.
Students in the Cal Poly Scholars Program have experienced improved retention rates compared with their peers who did not participate in the program, the school said.
“We want the value of the Cal Poly degree to continue to appreciate, and it’s doing that,” Armstrong said. “But if we don’t make significant changes and especially look at diversity through this avenue of low-income, I’m concerned.”