Cal Poly students to vote on fee increase Wednesday

Tuition costs at Cal Poly will nearly double in a span of six years if students vote today for a proposed fee increase and the decision is upheld by the California State University chancellor.

Cal Poly students will cast ballots electronically on a mandatory fee for all students that would increase tuition by $160 per quarter, effective in the fall.

If implemented, the phased-in plan would top out at $260 more per quarter in fall 2014.

The increase would put average yearly undergraduate tuition at close to $9,500 by 2014.

Annual tuition costs for undergraduates at Cal Poly have jumped from $5,043 in 2008 to $7,986 this year.

The new fee money would go to more classes and laboratory sections, improving graduation rates, and funding interdisciplinary experiences, as well as student enrichment and multicultural programs, according to information online.

Students who criticize the Cal Poly fee proposal say it’s too vague and asks them to pay too much, and they wonder if the money will be put to the best use.

“Tuition already is too high, and students are wondering if this new fee increase idea is necessary,” said Hannah Hazdovac, a Cal Poly journalism major. “It’s hard to know exactly where this money is going and if it would go to programs that all of the students would use.”

But Fletcher Thornton, a Cal Poly electrical engineering major, said he supports the proposal. He said some labs for his classes need updating. He also said he values the small class sizes Cal Poly offers and hopes the fee increase would maintain that.

“The state isn’t going to pay for everything we need here,” Thornton said. “I know people aren’t happy about higher fees, but I don’t know if we have other options.”

The vote will be advisory, meaning it is intended to give direction to administrators who are gathering input from the students.

CSU Chancellor Charles Reed will have the final say if Cal Poly President Jeffrey Armstrong submits a formal request to adopt the plan.

The student fee proposal doesn’t consider possible new CSU systemwide fee increases for fall 2013 and fall 2014, which are separate and decided upon by the CSU board of trustees.

The board has voted on a 9 percent tuition hike for fall 2012, which is also separate from the Cal Poly proposal.

Cal Poly officials say the decline in state funding, which provided 90 percent of the university’s revenue in the 1980s compared with 41 percent now, has necessitated the fee hikes.

Patrick Tibbett, a Cal Poly mechanical engineering senior, has opposed the plan in a petition, saying it lacks specific details.

“What are the specific initiatives that increase access to classes and laboratories?” Tibbett wrote. “How will Cal Poly increase retention and graduation rates?”

But Cal Poly officials say they don’t want to be handcuffed by further narrowing the use of the money.

A committee would advise the university on priorities for funding. It would be co-chaired by the student body president and Cal Poly’s vice president of finance. Students would make up the majority of the committee.

Much of the money in the first year, if not all, would help students enroll in the classes they need to graduate — perhaps the campus’ biggest immediate need.

Kimi Ikeda, the university’s associate vice provost, said Cal Poly offers a valuable education and is worth the cost.

She cited a graduation rate that reached an all-time high of 74 percent within six years in 2011 and success in placing students with jobs.

For 19 straight years, U.S. News & World Report has ranked Cal Poly as one of the best public university in the country offering bachelor’s and master’s programs.