Cal Poly students don't like new fee to pay for 'opportunity grant,' president says

Cal Poly’s proposed opportunity grant program has been put on hold for at least another year after students expressed concerns over a new fee that would be assessed to out-of-state students and how that money would be distributed, President Jeffrey Armstrong said.

The Cal Poly Opportunity Grant, introduced in February, aimed to provide a jolt of financial aid to low-income students in an effort to increase diversity on campus. The university planned to assess a new annual fee on incoming out-state-students to fund the grant, which officials projected would generate $1.64 million in 2018.

After reviewing feedback from the 2,178 students who submitted comments, Armstrong announced in a campus-wide email April 4 that the proposed Opportunity Grant would not be implemented in fall 2018 as initially planned.

Armstrong told The Tribune he is still working through potential changes to the program — it could go into effect in fall 2019 — and the main issue students addressed in their comments was the proposed fee. He said current nonresident students, who understood they would not be affected by the fee, did not like the idea.

“I can understand that, and I was not surprised by that,” Armstrong said, “because many of them are paying less to go to Cal Poly than they would in their home state. It’s a bargain.”

When Armstrong introduced the Cal Poly Opportunity Grant, incoming out-of-state students were facing an additional fee of $2,010 per year throughout their undergraduate tenure at Cal Poly.

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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 have generated $1.64 million in revenue in 2018, $4.85 million in 2019, with projections of $24.14 million in 2023, according to the school.

“Our market research says we’ve got a lot of market demand, and we can charge more,” Armstrong said.

Students also said they did not like that 25 percent of revenue generated by the fee would go toward the general Cal Poly budget to be used at the discretion of the president.

Additionally, they were displeased that 15 percent of gross revenue from the fees would be routed to the CSU Chancellor’s Office for financial aid and/or academic support for low-income students throughout the CSU system.

Armstrong said private donations alone would not be enough to fund the grant program, noting that it would require a $500 million endowment. He added that the Cal Poly Scholars Program, which will impact about 350 students by next school year, operates on a budget of about $1.6 million, and 40 percent of that money comes from donors.

“You can see we need about 15 to 20 times that money,” Armstrong said.

Armstrong said the grant is another effort by the administration to increase diversity on campus, adding to the progress made in recent years. But those efforts hit a stumbling block when photos of a Cal Poly fraternity member in blackface emerged and caused public outrage on campus.

Armstrong pointed to growth in the number of Latino and Asian students on campus as progress, admitting that “impacting other underrepresented minorities is much more difficult.”

“African American qualified Cal Poly students have a lot of choices,” Armstrong said, “and we haven’t done well in competing for those students, and incidents like this don’t help us at all.”

The administration hopes to present a revised grant proposal in the next three to eight weeks, Armstrong said.

“There’s no one answer, but this is a huge piece moving forward,” he said. “Five years from now, 10 years from now, we’re more diverse. It’s going to be a better campus for everybody.”

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