After recognizing its lack of diversity on campus last year, Cal Poly is seeing an increased number of low income and minority students thanks in part to a new fee assessed to out of state students.
This Fall quarter is the first time out-of-state students are paying the $2,000 per year opportunity fee. Despite the fee, Cal Poly Pres. Jeffrey Armstrong said the university is seeing an increase in out-of-state students this quarter.
The fee, which is expected to generate about $2.1 million this year, comprises a large portion of the funding for Cal Poly's Scholars Program.
The Cal Poly Scholars program started in 2012 as a way to recruit and support high-achieving low-income students.
This year, according to Armstrong, that group is the biggest yet with 280 new freshman and transfer students.
Students in the Cal Poly Scholars Program receive assistance with tuition, room and board, and other expenses. Private donors fund about 40 percent of the program.
Armstrong said the university is putting the money where its mouth is after years of failing at diversity.
"We noted, as you look at students offered admission, what percentage accept and what percentage do not accept, we noticed looking at the numbers ... our economically disadvantaged students that were highly acceptable to Cal Poly were saying no at a higher rate," Armstrong said. "I don't think that's acceptable to Cal Poly. We want all students to want to come to Cal Poly."
Half of the $2.1 million dollars raised this year by the opportunity fee directly supports low-income students, while the remainder is being spent on advising and adding tenure track faculty.
Armstrong said the university is planning to have between 2,500 to 3,000 Cal Poly Scholars by 2024. Armstrong described the efforts made by Cal Poly as a way to close a gap that's been widening for years.
"We increased our campus based fees, we didn't increase financial aid. So Cal Poly has less financial aid than any other public university in California," Armstrong said. "So We're really rectifying a problem that was created over time, that no one intended to create. But it's making a big difference. The best way to look at it is we're better reflecting California."
Over the coming years, the opportunity fee will increase and the additional funds raised will support 30 to 35 additional faculty, enhanced advising for all students and enhanced housing.
Cal Poly made gains in diversity in 2017 when it eliminated the early decision admissions option. That process was found to disadvantage low income students because they would not know the full extent of their financial aid prior to making a commitment.
No official numbers on the demographics of the 5,300 incoming students this quarter were available at the time of this news story.