Cal Poly launches new scholarship program to attract more low-income students

Cal Poly is moving forward with a fee program that aims to attract more diverse, low-income students to its campus in San Luis Obispo, California.
Cal Poly is moving forward with a fee program that aims to attract more diverse, low-income students to its campus in San Luis Obispo, California.

Cal Poly is moving forward with a new scholarship program that aims to provide more financial aid to low-income and first-generation California students in an effort to increase diversity on campus.

President Jeffrey Armstrong initially introduced the program in February, but it was put on hold in April after students expressed concerns over the new fee on out-of-state students and how that money would be distributed.

After reviewing feedback from more than 2,100 students, the university announced Thursday that the Cal Poly Opportunity Fee will be assessed on all newly enrolled, out-of-state students beginning in fall 2019. All current students will be exempt from the fee, the school said.

“The diverse backgrounds and experiences these students will bring to Cal Poly will benefit all of our students and our entire campus community,” Armstrong said. “And our state will in turn benefit from the hands-on experience, problem-solving acumen and collaborative spirit these scholars will bring to their careers after graduation.”

Cal Poly students will soon move into a new $198 million student housing community. The 12-acre complex consists of seven three- to five-story buildings with 1,475 beds, a parking structure, large open spaces and more.

Incoming out-of-state students in 2019 will pay an additional $2,010 per year through their undergraduate tenure at Cal Poly.

Each subsequent incoming out-of-state class would pay an increased amount, through the class of 2022. The plan is for the 2020 arrivals to pay an annual fee of $4,020; the 2021 arrivals would pay $6,030; and the 2022 newcomers would pay $8,040 annually. But those increases could change.

In the first year, Armstrong said, the fees will generate approximately $1 million that will go toward scholarships serving about 300 low-income California high school students. The university hopes that by 2022, the fees will generate about $13 million in scholarships that could benefit roughly 3,000 students, Armstrong said.

School officials emphasized that the university’s ongoing efforts to diversify its campus in the wake of a racially charged spring quarter are in compliance with state Proposition 209, which prohibits state governmental institutions from considering race, sex or ethnicity during the admissions process.

“Cal Poly’s high admissions standards are not changing whatsoever,” chief communications officer Chris Murphy said. “Rather, our efforts to increase diversity are focused on making Cal Poly accessible to the broadest number of academically qualified prospective students in California.”

The percentage of out-of-state students admitted to the university will continue to be capped at its current level of 15 percent, Armstrong said. Additionally, grant recipients will be required to live on campus for two years.

How the money is divided

University officials also have worked to address student concerns over how the fee money will be distributed.

The initial proposal called for 15 percent of the gross revenue from the fees to be routed to the CSU Chancellor’s Office for financial aid and/or academic support for low-income students throughout the CSU system.

Of the remaining 85 percent of the revenue, 50 percent would have gone directly to funding scholarships, 25 percent would go to support services for low-income, first-generation students, and the final 25 percent would go toward the general Cal Poly budget to be used at the discretion of the president.

In the revised proposal, 50 to 70 percent of the funds will go toward scholarships; 15 to 20 percent will go toward student support and advising; and 15 to 25 percent will be used to hire additional tenure-track faculty.

Students, including Cal Poly’s Associated Students Inc., will play an advisory role in decisions involving expenditure of the funds, according to the university.

“This is a pilot for the CSU — no one else is doing this at the present time,” Armstrong said. “We really have a market for out-of-state students that is different than the rest of the CSU, so therefore we have an opportunity for revenue that is a bit different for the rest of the CSU.”

Program has a model

The program is modeled off the framework for the Cal Poly Scholars Program, which was created in 2012. That program provides scholarships for up to five years, a technology package, advising and other support to low-income and first-generation students from California partner high schools.

Students in the Cal Poly Scholars Program have experienced improved retention rates compared with their peers who did not participate in the program, the school said.

The Cal Poly SLO commencement ceremony for the College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Sciences and College of Science and Mathematics was held Saturday, June 16, 2018, at Alex Spanos Stadium in San Luis Obispo, California.

The money generated will cover the campus-based fees portion ($3,177) of the annual in-state tuition and fees package ($9,816). According to Cal Poly’s financial aid website, the estimated cost of attendance for in-state freshman students living on campus is $28,353 for the 2018-19 school year.

Incoming out-of-state freshman living on campus now face a total cost of attendance of $40,233.

The high cost of campus fees, for which there is no form of state grant assistance, is what makes Cal Poly the most expensive school to attend in the CSU system, Armstrong said, and can deter students from attending the university.

Armstrong said the ultimate goal is to serve the widest possible range of academically qualified California students.

“We want to make sure that the students that have applied to Cal Poly, who are accepted, that financial aid is not a barrier for them,” Armstrong said. “Clearly, it has been. Our yields are significantly lower for low-income, first-generation and diverse students. The big driver in that is financial aid.”

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Cal Poly hosts a grand opening event for the newly finished first phase of the Oppenheimer Family Equine Center.

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