by Brad Butterfield
Cal Poly Humboldt’s official census has been finalized and shows a one year increase of 118 students, or a 2% growth compared to last fall. The increase is important for the new polytechnic, which hasn’t seen consecutive growth in over seven years. The university is far below the projected 2,000 more students that were expected this fall semester. Because of the far-off prediction, over half a million dollars in Associated Student funded programs has been cut and millions dollars of funding may be withheld by the CSU for the next school year. What caused this gross over-prediction? What is the administration planning to do about it? And, maybe most critically, why does the school need to grow anyway?
The projection for 2,000 additional students this fall arose primarily due to a record 86% surge in freshman applications.
“It really did look like it could be possible,” said Chrissy Holliday, Vice President for Enrollment Management and Student Success, regarding the expected inflow of students this fall. “What’s less known is how serious students are in the very beginning about an institution that’s just changed its identity,” Holliday added.
Cal Poly’s Humbodt’s recent transformation to become California’s third polytechnic has rendered the historical data typically used to predict enrollment, unuseful. As the school is changing, so are students’ behavior in response to it. In understanding how the university operates, it is useful to compare it to the way businesses function.
“Think about companies that shift their identity or create something completely different that they’re putting into the marketplace, whether it’s a new brand or a new product,” said Holliday. “You never know right in the beginning exactly what reaction is going to be and then you start setting new baselines and adjusting to that.”
2,000 new students was both a worst and best case scenario for the university, which has promised to grow, but has not yet completed the planned infrastructure projects to support such an influx of new students.
“We planned for everything on the continuum. The worst possible thing would be to have growth like that and not be prepared for it right. You can imagine the chaos that would have ensued,” said Holliday.
Cal Poly Humboldt is 2,473 students under their target for this fall, which could lead to 3.4 million dollars in funding being withheld by the CSU.
“It’s a budget challenge we’re planning for. We knew that that was a possibility,” said Holliday.
Additionally, the school spent over a million dollars on a contract with the Comfort Inn to house students, with hundreds of bed spaces on campus vacant. Further, the inaccurate enrollment estimation means that Associated Student funded programs have been cut by $528,717. This includes major cuts to the children’s center, government and even the university’s pool.
Still Cal Poly Humboldt is faring much better than most other schools in the CSU system.
“If you look at all the CSU for this fall, headcount is actually down across the CSU and their full time enrollment, the resident ‘FTES,’ grew by about 1%, where for us that was 3.4%,” said Holliday.
In an effort to spread the word about the new polytechnic in northern California, the university has ramped up its advertising efforts. This includes the deployment of recruiting staff across California, digital advertising, improving communications and increasing engagement with prospective students, allowing ‘instant admissions’ for eligible students, enhancing the community college to Cal Poly Humboldt pipeline, increased presence at college fairs and streamlining the admission process.
It appears that two statements are congruently accurate. The university will grow because it is now a polytechnic, and the school must grow because it is now a polytechnic. In fact, Governor Gavin Newsom and the state legislature approved $433 million in initial funding for polytechnic transition and $25 million per year thereafter. The pressure to grow is evident.
“There’s definitely pressure because we put forth this polytechnic transformation, right, and said, ‘This is what we’re going to do,’” said Holliday. “There’s definitely a responsibility to follow through on what we promised.”
In spite of the low enrollment numbers this fall, Holliday remains confident that the school will achieve their overarching goal of 11,000 students by 2028.
“I have zero doubt that we’re going to meet the targets that we have in the out years,” said Holliday.
Holliday went on to explain that gradual growth will allow for changes to be done in a way that doesn’t take away the aspects of Humboldt county and campus life that separate the Lumberjack’s campus from any other.
“The more steady growth that we’re seeing currently gives us that time to make sure we don’t lose those things that helped make us special,” said Holliday.