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Cal Poly president unveils ambitious agenda at faculty conference

Cal Poly President Jeffrey Armstrong plans to expand enrollment, upgrade infrastructure and increase out-of-state and international students in an ambitious vision over the next 10 to 15 years.

But much of the burden to support future plans will be placed on the backs of students, who have seen their tuition rise by about 36 percent over the past four years.

Students now pay for more than 50 percent of Cal Poly’s operating budget compared with 10 percent 25 years ago.

Armstrong, who started as president in February, announced his plan in a Tuesday speech at a meeting before a packed audience of faculty and staff at the Performing Arts Center.

Citing a 40 percent drop in state funding over the past four years, Armstrong said maintaining and building on success at Cal Poly will hinge on increased support from new student fees.

The campus also must strive to bring in significantly more private donations, seek grants and develop industry partnerships.

“We are at a critical cross-road,” Armstrong said. “We must meet the immediate challenges to preserve our level of excellence, while staying focused on our future.”

Funding

The CSU system originated with the idea of offering free tuition for access to higher education for all.

But times have changed, Armstrong said, and he’ll consult with students this fall on a proposal on new fee increases beginning in fall 2012. No specific numbers have been proposed yet.

“This request comes on the heels of substantial increases recently in tuition and fees,” Armstrong said. “But additional support is necessary.”

Tuition costs for undergraduates at Cal Poly have increased from $5,043 in 2008-2009 to $7,921 in 2011-2012, according to CSU officials.

The new money could help pay for more course sections, laboratory opportunities, and health and counseling services.

In 2009, 78 percent of student voters approved increasing academic fees by up to $562 per quarter.

But CSU Chancellor Charles Reed discouraged the fees, and they weren’t implemented as CSU fees rose at the same time. Reed told The Tribune that he didn’t want to limit access to education for financially strapped students.

Cal Poly student body President Kiyana Tabrizi said students seemed to speak their minds two years ago through their vote, but this year could be different.

“I would like to look into it,” Tabrizi said. “Whether increased fees limit students’ accessibility to education is important. We need to know whether or not Cal Poly students can afford it.”

More students

In discussing Cal Poly’s make-up, Armstrong said he hopes to see more out-of-state and foreign students to bring a more diverse, global perspective. They’d also pay higher tuitions to help cover operational costs, he said.

Boosting enrollment in years to come will help California fill a shortage of professionals in the science and technology fields and better meet student demands for higher education, he said.

The new president also said improved technology and upgraded and expanded facilities, especially for the arts and sports, will provide a “gateway” to boost Cal Poly’s success and prestige — which he strives to improve nationally.

While emphasizing Cal Poly’s strengths, including a 3.85 GPA for incoming freshman and a 76 percent graduation rate within six years, the university has room for improvement, Armstrong said.

“Given the high caliber of students that we attract, our goal should be to reach and exceed a 90 percent graduation rate,” Armstrong said.

Cal Poly’s five-year graduation rate is about 67 percent, and its four-year rate is about 31 percent, though architecture is a five-year program and certain engineering programs often take students more than four years to complete.

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