In a wide-ranging speech to faculty and staff to kick off the new academic year, Cal Poly President Jeff Armstrong said financial security is a key to future university growth and prosperity, including developing new academic programs and growing enrollment.
In similar speeches in the past, he said he wanted to grow enrollment up to 25,000 students from the existing 20,000.
Armstrong didn’t repeat those numbers as a potential target Monday, saying that the university’s growth — and which academic areas will expand — will depend on factors including funding, collaborations with the city of San Luis Obispo and the county, faculty input and the needs of California industry.
In his speech, he noted that the competitiveness to get into Cal Poly has attracted an incoming group of students with an average grade point average of 3.97.
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Armstrong, who assumed his post in February 2011, said Cal Poly is the most expensive California State University to operate because of its emphasis on hands-on education. The university has a focus on laboratory and materials-based learning — including engineering, agriculture and architecture majors.
And during the years of the heavy budget cuts from 2006 to 2009, the university saw bigger slashes in its state funding than any other CSU campus.
However, Cal Poly also receives about $14 million in funds from “student success fees,” which has helped compensate for financial shortfalls.
Armstrong said the university is still working to manage an $11 million deficit in its budget.
“You all know we’ve been through some difficult financial times over many of the past few years,” Armstrong said. “We also know that recently, things have begun to turn around. … We cannot rely solely on our two primary sources of revenue — student tuition and fees and state allocations.”
He said the university’s private industry partnerships and fundraising are key stabilizers.
The university has achieved its goals in the first couple of years of a capital campaign to raise $500 million by 2022 — including bringing in $42.6 million in its first fiscal year of 2013, eclipsing its $40 million goal, and raising $49.2 million in fiscal year 2014.
Armstrong also spoke of expanding the university’s Center for Innovation & Entrepreneurship, which features a wide variety of programs that assist entrepreneurs to achieve business dreams and promotes partnerships between the university and private industry.
Armstrong noted that the university’s HotHouse program has blossomed, and he highlighted 17 startup business ideas generated from the incubator this summer.
The university hopes to expand the program and is now looking into investing in an apartment project downtown to house students who work in the HotHouse, as well as a “study-away experience” for students in Silicon Valley in a variety of majors.
Armstrong said that the university will continue to move forward with exploring the idea of a hotel and conference center on campus and continue efforts to provide a wine innovation facility at Cal Poly.
“We need to support this fantastic energy in (the wine) industry on the Central Coast,” Armstrong said.
The university president also noted that the results of an extensive Campus Climate survey will be released Oct. 16. The survey will provide information on attitudes, behaviors, and the level of respect between members of the campus — with a goal of an appreciation of diversity.
Cal Poly has faced challenges with tolerance and insensitivity in past years, notably with a fraternity party themed “Colonial Bros and Nava-hos” and a Halloween display arranged by students at the university-owned crops house depicting a noose, Confederate flag and sign with derogatory language toward blacks, gays and hippies.
Armstrong said he won’t see the results of the study until they’re released to the campus at large in October but said sensitivity and respect are core values that he has imparted on new students.
“We have to show respect for each other,” Armstrong said. “… We cannot tolerate bullying, cruelty or closed-mindedness. We have to care about the impact we have on each other.”