The construction fences are down at yakɁitʸutʸu and, in a matter of days, 1,475 students will be the first to live in Cal Poly’s newest student housing.
This new facility has allowed Cal Poly to get freshmen out of campus apartments intended for continuing students and to de-triple many crowded rooms, making 800 additional bed spaces available for continuing students who otherwise would have been living off-campus this fall. This year, about 8,000 students will live on campus. Almost 3,500 of them will be continuing students — more than ever in Cal Poly’s history.
yakɁitʸutʸu (meaning “our community” in the language of the yak tityu tityu yak tiłhini tribe) was one of the first projects I started when I joined this community as vice president for student affairs, and it is our first major step toward making Cal Poly a deeply residential campus.
It won’t be our last. Cal Poly is moving forward on plans for more than 2,600 additional beds in the near future for continuing students, and our master plan calls for us to eventually house up to 65 percent of the student body — including our fraternities and sororities. That will mean nearly 6,000 more students living on campus in the future compared to today, placing Cal Poly’s university housing system among the largest in the country. At the same time, the university is striving to keep enrollment steady.
Since 2003, Cal Poly has invested more than half a billion dollars into student housing facilities to accommodate growth of the campus community and expand housing options for students. With the completion of yakɁitʸutʸu, the university has added 5,600 new beds over a 15-year span. This is a significant commitment by Cal Poly to the campus and our community, particularly as no state funds are provided for housing projects.
We know that it’s good for everyone in our community when students live on campus for at least their first two years of college. Years of research on our own students confirms they perform better academically and graduate faster when living on campus. Living on campus also eliminates the graduation gaps that exist nationally for groups, including first-generation students and low-income students.
Meanwhile, apartments and homes are able to be rented or owned by a larger percentage of the San Luis Obispo community, especially local workforce and new faculty and staff. That’s why we have made it campus policy for all freshman students to live on campus (with appropriate exemptions for local students) and will soon require all students to live on campus for their first two years.
We will begin implementing the two-year policy as soon as we build capacity via the residential projects envisioned in the forthcoming Cal Poly Master Plan. While we can’t finalize approval, let alone begin building new residential projects, until that plan is approved by the CSU Board of Trustees, we are already in the planning phases so that we can break new ground as soon as possible.
Housing in San Luis Obispo is expensive — and constructing new projects will be no different. Ensuring each of our students has access to quality on-campus housing is a strong value of ours, as we have heard several stories of students making sacrifices to live in unhealthy, unsafe and overcrowded rentals to save money. That’s why we have built in need-based grants for living on-campus for the first time this year, even as Cal Poly student housing is less expensive than living off campus and remains among the most affordable compared to other public universities in the state.
Of course, our longer-term plan is to provide a more robust financial aid package for all low-income California students, as recent national surveys clearly demonstrated that Cal Poly is the most expensive public university in the state after accounting for financial aid.
We also go to great lengths to ensure that students who may be homeless, food-insecure, or in need of emergency medical care have access to on-campus housing, food and financial support through the Cal Poly Cares Program (largely funded by our Cal Poly Foundation Board with assistance from University Housing and the Cal Poly Corporation) and the Tanklage Family Initiative to End Homelessness at Cal Poly. We have been able to help more than 300 students since the program began three years ago.
The issues that face San Luis Obispo also challenge Cal Poly and our students. We are part of this community, and we are fiercely proud to be a community leader on the Central Coast. Meeting every challenge is part of our responsibility.
As students return to campus this month, we invite you to visit as well. See yakɁitʸutʸu and learn more about the heritage of the first people of San Luis Obispo County; take in a football game or student performance; and be ready to welcome back California’s future leaders. After all, we are all part of yakɁitʸutʸu.
Keith Humphrey is vice president for student affairs at Cal Poly.