News Column

Cal Poly president presents vision for more diverse, growing campus by 2022

May 2, 2014

By Nick Wilson, The Tribune (San Luis Obispo, Calif.)



May 02--Cal Poly President Jeff Armstrong's vision for 2022 includes a university with more students living on campus, significantly higher graduation rates, a more diverse student body and a completed $500 million fundraising campaign.

Armstrong said in a speech Friday that his vision will be governed by "guiding principles and our ability to maintain excellence as our standard."

Speaking at the Performing Arts Center in front of faculty, staff, students, San Luis Obispo city officials, and members of the media and community, Armstrong acknowledged some of the goals are ambitious but are centered around student achievement.

Key goals for 2022, mentioned in his speech and in an accompanying outline posted on the university's website, included:

--Housing all first- and second-year students on campus (currently 98 percent of freshmen and 61 percent of sophomores live on campus).

--Boosting the four-year graduation rate from 40 percent to 75 percent and the five-year rate from 68 to 90 percent.

--Increasing the number of minority students on campus to better reflect California's demographics.

--Completing a $500 million fundraising campaign by 2022.

--Increasing salaries, professional development, and access to more affordable housing for faculty and staff

Many of the benchmarks he presented, however, didn't come with specifics, including how the university will boost its graduation rates and why the current numbers are well below the target.

Also, it's unclear specifically how the $500 million would be spent and how much has been raised so far.

"I would say generally that the funding from the campaign would play a critical role in enhancing the excellence of Cal Poly's Learn by Doing education," university spokesman Matt Lazier said.

Armstrong announced an $8 million commitment from the James G. Boswell Foundation -- a charitable farming organization centered in the Central Valley -- toward construction of a new $25 million campus facility for agricultural research.

The $8 million combines with an additional $5 million the university has received in pledges for the building.

The center is planned for the middle of campus, where a decades-old Building 52 science building was partially demolished to make way for the new Warren J. Baker Center for Science and Mathematics.

"I will also add, and I can't get into detail, but that will not be the only building we build in the footprint of Building 52," Armstrong said.

Armstrong also said partnerships with the business, the Cal State University system, and with the community will be vital to achieving long-term goals. He said he envisions a campus where students would be able to take classes during the morning and then head to an internship in the afternoon -- all on campus.

The university will continue to court companies to set up shop on campus and pursue innovative research.

As part of the university's goal to house all freshmen and sophomores on campus, a new dormitory complex is proposed for the intersection of Grand Avenue and Slack Street. The dorm has met with a vocal contingent of community opponents because of potential impacts to the surrounding neighborhood.

Armstrong said the site was the most cost effective and best location to serve students. California State University trustees are expected to decide this month whether to approve construction of the dorm complex.

As part of his vow to foster partnerships, Armstrong pledged to hold annual meetings with the city of San Luis Obispo to discuss future growth.

The pledge comes after 28 past mayors and council members sent a letter to the city and Cal Poly in April, asking them to work together on planning any future student housing.

"We have to continue to leverage and partner with others," Armstrong said. ". ... I want to reinforce that we're wholly committed to strengthening our partnerships with the city, its residents, our neighbors, and the broad community. To increase collaboration, we pledge to meet with the city (of San Luis Obispo) and county on an annual basis, and informally more often, to share our plans, our ideas, for facilities, for growth, as we move together."

Questions from the audience included how the university might best maintain small class sizes and personal interaction between faculty and students as Cal Poly grows in enrollment.

"We have to focus on increasing graduation rates, we have to be governed by our guiding, foundational principles," Armstrong responded. "That's why frankly, we told a lot more students 'no' this year than we did last year because we we're looking at this."

Armstrong said the university, which has been recovering from losses in state funding over the past few years, plans to add more faculty. A new, computer-based course planning tool also helps students map out their graduation track and the university to monitor progress.

Another question touched on whether Cal Poly will maintain its quarter system amid Cal State University pressures to move to a semester system. In agreement with a university task force that reviewed a possible change to semesters, Armstrong said he supports maintaining the quarter system because faculty and students prefer the pace and variety of courses offered.

"It's my goal that we stay on quarters," Armstrong said. "...We spent time looking at it and said, 'Sure, semesters might be good in some circumstances' but not for Cal Poly."

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Source: Tribune (San Luis Obispo, CA)