Cal Poly wants out-of-state students to fund diversity grants

The grants would be funded by a new fee imposed exclusively on out-of-state students, which would start at $2,010 per year but rise to at least $8,040 by 2021.

Cal Poly recently proposed an "opportunity grant" program designed to increase diversity on campus by providing financial assistance to low-income students.

Cal Poly has proposed hiking fees for out-of-state students by thousands of dollars per year in order to fund a grant program aimed at “increasing diversity on campus.”

The “Cal Poly Opportunity Fee” would apply to incoming out-of-state students beginning in the fall 2018 semester, and would initially be set at $2,010 per year, according to a press release put out Wednesday by California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo.

The fee would then increase by $2,010 each year for several years, maxing out at $8,040 in 2021, with the proceeds earmarked for a “Cal Poly Opportunity Grant” that would provide financial assistance to low-income California students.

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In an email announcing the proposal, Cal Poly President Jeffrey Armstrong explained that “we know many qualified students turn down the opportunity to come to Cal Poly simply because of the cost of attendance,” describing the proposed fee as a way to “create new opportunities for high-achieving, low-income California students.”

While income is the sole criterion for the grants, though, Armstrong clarified that an explicit purpose of the proposal is to increase “diversity” on campus.

“Given racial and ethnic minorities and first-generation students are over-represented among lower-income households, the Cal Poly Opportunity Grant would allow the university to increase the diversity of its student population,” Armstrong wrote. “By serving a greater cross-section of California students, we can create a campus community that better reflects the diversity of our state and provides students with a rich intercultural experience.”

Initially, Armstrong said the grant would only be offered to students in the “lowest income bracket,” but as the cost of the fee increases, the school would expand grant eligibility to “students from a broader range of low-income levels.”

If necessary, he noted, the proposal “includes a provision allowing for the fee to be adjusted up to $2,700 per year for a given incoming class, if needed,” but said that combined tuition and fees would be capped at 90 percent of the “comparable tuition and fees” at a school in the University of California (UC) system.

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Cal Poly itself is not a UC campus, however. Rather, it is part of the California State University (CSU) system, which has a current base tuition of $5,742 per year with an additional $396 per semester or $264 per quarter for non-resident students. The UC system estimates tuition for non-resident students at $40,644.

The university has invited students to voice their opinions on the matter during a number of open forums throughout February and March, as well as in an online “formal intake form,” but preliminary reactions don’t seem to bode well for the proposal.

A poll conducted by the school’s student newspaper immediately following the announcement drew responses from roughly 1,300 students, with a staggering 86 percent expressing opposition to the fee.

Comments on the post revealed widespread incredulity on the part of respondents, many of whom predicted that the fees would not only dissuade out-of-state students from attending Cal Poly, particularly those from middle-income families.

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Notably, the proposed fee comes less than one year after Cal Poly received a $110 million donation—the largest single private donation in CSU history—part of which was set aside to fund scholarships and research stipends for students in math and science programs.

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