Editorial: Affordable education should be No. 1 goal

Much as we want Cal Poly to preserve its “level of excellence,” we have serious concerns about expecting students to pay ever-higher fees — especially since it now takes most Poly students five or more years to graduate.

It’s already enough of a financial burden on families to pay for four years of college.

Consider: This year, a Poly student will spend, on average, $23,488 on tuition, room and board, books, transportation, etc. Multiply that over four years, and that’s close to $100,000.

And President Jeffrey Armstrong is talking about increasing fees even more?

We would have more sympathy with that if Cal Poly found a way to remove barriers that prevent students from graduating on time. Too often, we hear that students can’t get the classes they need to fulfill graduation requirements or that some bureaucratic snafu causes them to stay in college longer than expected.

In his Tuesday speech, Armstrong announced the formation of an “action group” that will look at those barriers to success.

That’s a good start.

To give further credit where it’s due, we also recognize that Cal Poly’s current graduation rate is above average; 76 percent of students graduate within six years, compared to the national average of 57 percent.

But as Armstrong said himself, given the high caliber of students at Cal Poly, the graduation rate should exceed 90 percent.

We would add that the four-year graduation rate should be higher than 31 percent, especially when you consider that many students enter college with credits they’ve already earned through advanced placement and/or community college courses they took while in high school.

President Armstrong has some ambitious goals —upgrading infrastructure, increasing enrollment, doubling the university’s endowment through an eight-year capital campaign.

That’s commendable.

We believe, however, that the No. 1 goal should be to meet the commitment to current students and their families by keeping costs as affordable as possible, while still ensuring a quality education.

One of the most practical ways to do that is to help students complete a four-year program in four years — not five or six.