Cal Poly could have between 1,000 and 1,200 more students on campus this fall than it had originally planned, leaving the university scrambling to find enough beds and offer more classes. But it also will have what it believes is the most diverse freshman class in two decades.
Moreover, the university says total enrollment —expected to be about 22,500 this fall — will drop back down in fall 2018.
Final numbers won’t be known for a few more weeks, according to President Jeffrey Armstrong, who said that more students than expected accepted Cal Poly’s offer of admission for the 2017 fall quarter.
About 75 percent of the growth is from incoming freshmen and transfer students, he said, with the rest attributed to more students returning overall. Cal Poly’s decision last fall to end a long-standing policy allowing early admissions also played a role, he said.
The university accepts a certain number of applications each year, and based on projections expects some of those students to decline and attend other schools. This year, the balance was a bit off.
“What happened to us in the simplest terms is this year, we are a victim of success,” Armstrong said. “We will have unplanned growth for the fall.”
The university plans to reduce freshmen enrollment in fall 2018, and won’t pursue any student growth until at least 2022, when more classroom buildings and funding for instructors are expected to come online, Armstrong said. Officials will also re-examine their acceptance formula to make sure they don’t accept too many people again in the future.
“This was a surprise to us too,” Armstrong said. “This enrollment growth was not planned.”
What does the new class look like?
The numbers are still in flux while potential students confirm their spots and submit transcripts proving they met the university’s admissions requirements, but the latest estimates place the size of the incoming freshman class somewhere between 5,000 and 5,200 students.
By comparison, the freshman class was 4,341 in 2016, 4,943 in 2015 and 4,662 in 2014, according to data from the university’s Institutional Research.
Armstrong attributed part of the increase in students to the university’s decision last year to remove early admission in 2017 to attract more underrepresented or minority students, who have traditionally not taken part in early decision because they don’t know then whether they will get financial aid.
Before that, the school accepted and locked down about 25 percent of its incoming class through early admission.
“We know that our underrepresented students, due to financial aid, altogether do not say yes at as high a rate to Cal Poly as other students,” he said. “So we dropped early decision and went from 75 percent of the enrollment being volatile — because the yield on early decision is highly predictable — and moved to 100 percent.”
Though it added to the volatility of admissions, the decision has helped further the university’s efforts to increase diversity at what has traditionally been a predominately white campus, he said.
Cal Poly Chief Communications Officer Chris Murphy said the incoming group will be the most diverse class in two decades.
What are they doing about it?
Next fall, some of the university’s housing stress will be eased by the new 1,450-bed Student Housing South dorms on Grand Avenue, but this year, while those are still under construction and Fremont Hall is closed, the university has had to get creative to find where it will house its students.
Vice President of Student Affairs Keith Humphrey said they are in the process of adding 1,000 beds in Poly Canyon Village, one of two apartment-style dorm complexes on campus. Staff there have been converting apartments that previously housed four students with bunk beds, so they can now fit eight students.
“We’ve been communicating with our students and parents about the changes in occupancy, what the furniture will look like, here’s what the rooms will be, and we are getting very thoughtful questions, but we’re not hearing complaints,” Humphrey said.
In all, about 4,000 students will be living in Poly Canyon Village this fall, he said. The complex is designed for 2,760.
In addition, Cal Poly spokeswoman Cynthia Lambert confirmed that some students who signed up for single or double rooms when they applied for housing will instead be housed in double or triple rooms and pay less accordingly. Continuing students were informed in early May that about 85 percent of them would likely have “some adjustments made to their housing occupancy to accommodate the incoming first-year students,” according to Lambert.
University Housing is spending about $7.3 million to add furniture in the dorms and update the campus wireless network to support the additional students, Lambert said.
Beside the housing dilemma, a larger-than-expected class offers another problem for the school: more students need not only more beds, but more classes, more instructors and more support staff.
“Growth is a good thing if you’ve got space and faculty and they can get their classes,” Armstrong said. “We’re on the kind of the stressful side of the quality-quantity balance.”
Armstrong said the university has already set aside about $1.5 million to fund new faculty for this fall, including replacing those who left, though that number is subject to change. The school has also been working to add class sections and convert under-utilized spaces for classrooms and study spaces.
“We’re going to manage this and it’s going to be a good experience for our students,” he said.