Cal Poly president outlines goals for the year for faculty

An increased emphasis on improving graduation rates, potentially shifting from a quarter to a semester system and seeking additional philanthropic and entrepreneurial support to fill funding gaps will be among the key priorities at Cal Poly in coming years.

President Jeffrey Armstrong addressed the university’s faculty and staff Monday at the Recreation Center gymnasium in his annual welcome back before classes begin next week. He commended their commitment and success yet cautioned there will be struggles ahead in the face of declining state revenue.

State funding has declined to $83 million from $150 million in the past four years, Armstrong said. The college faces an additional $14.5 million cut if Gov. Jerry Brown’s tax initiative is not approved by voters in November.

Armstrong said passage of the tax measure would not only provide stability for existing programs and facilities, but also allow the college to expand enrollment to more California students.

Regardless of the outcome in November, the college will still consider shifting to a semester system.

A semester conversion task force composed of faculty, staff and students will study the potential impacts and provide a detailed analysis by December of moving from a 10-week course schedule over three quarters a year to a 16-week schedule over two semesters.

Cal Poly is one of six CSU campuses in the 23-campus system that divides the academic year into quarters.

Armstrong said he supports the change, which the CSU Chancellor’s Office believes would save money and increase productivity in the long run.

The shift would also help streamline courses to improve graduation rates, Armstrong said.

Cal Poly has a six-year graduation rate of 76 percent. Armstrong said he wants that rate to increase to 90 percent in the next 10 years.

The college’s four-year rate is now 31 percent. That number, he said, needs to double in the next 10 years.

“We all know that graduation rates are not the sole measure of student success,” Armstrong said. “But to parents, donors and political supporters, graduation rates are a very clear measure of whether we’re doing our jobs well.”

Developing philanthropic and industry partnerships are one way of increasing student achievement, Armstrong said, citing recent examples such as a $5 million contribution from Leprino Foods to the master’s of science program.

One new proposal — brought forward by state Sen. Sam Blakeslee, R-San Luis Obispo — would create a nonpartisan, multidisciplinary institute on the campus focused on using advanced technologies to address public policy practices.

Blakeslee envisions partnering with policy leaders from throughout the state and various technology firms from places such as Silicon Valley to tackle public policy questions.

“Many policies that drive the economy and the regulations and laws by which we operate were drafted decades ago,” Blakeslee said. “New technologies can help us look at complex policy problems in entirely new ways.”

He mentioned as an example using technology to guide decisions about conserving water on farms and ranches.

If the institution is approved to move forward, Blakeslee said he hopes to raise a $5 million endowment for future funding and launch it in the fall of 2014.

The college’s deans have endorsed Blakeslee’s proposal, and the Academic Senate will vote on it in October. An ad hoc committee must also endorse Blakeslee’s proposed budget plan before Armstrong can make a final approval.

“Cal Poly is the perfect university to conduct this because of the fact that they have a learn-by-doing approach,” Blakeslee said. “This is about being hands-on with large policy questions with a special focus on technology. That is what the 21st century is all about.”

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