Cal Poly administration accused of misspending student fees

May 15, 2020

President Jeffrey Armstrong

A state audit found Cal Poly has the highest student fees in the California State University system and the San Luis Obispo campus’s student fees have increased by 72 percent over the past eight academic years.

The audit likewise found Cal Poly has violated the CSU system student fee policy and has made questionable use of the revenue it has generated from fees, primarily by spending tens of millions of dollars on salaries and benefits.

California’s state auditor conducted a review of mandatory student fees at four CSU campuses: Cal Poly, Chico State, San Diego State and San Jose State. Campuses have not sufficiently justified their needs when proposing fees or fee increases, and the CSU Chancellor’s Office has not ensured administrators adequately consult with students about proposals, the audit found

Some student fees are optional because they are for specific purposes, like on-campus housing and parking. But, universities also charge mandatory student fees.

In the current academic year, Cal Poly’s mandatory student fees total $4,201. Fresno State has the lowest amount of student fees in the CSU system, $847 a year.

Since 2011-2012, CSU trustees have raised tuition by $270, or 5 percent. Over that period, Cal Poly raised mandatory student fees by 72 percent, from $2,439 to $4,201, the largest increase in the CSU system.

Mandatory student fees comprise an increasing proportion of total enrollment costs for students, according to the audit report. Since not all scholarships and grants cover student fees, some students who are eligible for financial aid must pay out of pocket or take on student loans to cover the fees.

Auditors said they expected campuses to use mandatory fee revenue to fund core CSU functions of instructing and graduating students. However, they found three campuses, including Cal Poly, have spent millions of dollars in student fee revenue on salaries and benefits.

In 2017, Cal Poly collected $80 million in mandatory student fee revenue. The following year, Cal Poly spent nearly $31 million of mandatory fee revenue on salaries and benefits.

Auditors also found Cal Poly did not collect or consider required recommendations from a campus committee before university President Jeffrey Armstrong made decisions about five proposed fee changes. Additionally, when Cal Poly implemented a student success fee that currently totals $878, administrators did not calculate the fee amount based on specific projected expenditures, a violation of CSU policy.

“The letter from Cal Poly’s president to the chancellor requesting approval of the student success fee offered no reason or justification for the specific fee amount,” the audit report states.

However, auditors did find Cal Poly’s administration twice chose not to move forward with proposed fees after students voted against them.

Chico State administrators, on the other hand, overrode the results of three unsuccessful student votes in 2018 and imposed fees, despite more than 60 percent of student voters opposing them. Under state law, one of the three votes should have been mandatory, according to the audit.

The state auditor is now recommending California legislators change state law so that binding student votes must take place when universities propose student fees or student fee increases. Likewise, the auditor is recommending the Legislature prohibit campuses from charging mandatory fees to fund any of the CSU’s core functions.


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This is almost as shocking as just finding out that water is wet or the earth is not flat!! It would be a hard choice to state which is the bigger crook – Armstrong or Hill, although each has their own somewhat unique method. The end result is the same – shaft anybody and everybody for your own good. Is it any wonder that the cost of a college education is completely out-of-reach for so many, unless you decide to take out huge loans that will take many, many years to pay back.

Maybe, just maybe, the crisis this country is facing now will result in some significant and real changes in how so-called “higher education” is conducted.


First off, let me say the cost to go to college is high. Leaving college with debt is a given nowadays. The real problem is many young adults have no idea how to budget. I graduated with almost 90k in student loans. After college, I didn’t buy a new car, got rid of my cell phone, and lived frugally for 5-6 years. While in school, I made a $100 payment each month towards my loans, even though I didn’t have to. Each year the interest rate on my loans decreased. I never missed a payment even when not employed. When I got to the final $10k, I got a no interest credit card for 12 months, paid off my student loan, then made sure it was paid off in 11 months. At this time, my card didn’t have a fee for balance transfers. I was loan free by my 28th birthday, and still saved money for retirement. I worked in my field full time and took on a second job part time for fun money. I’m sure many others have similar stories. Final thing, don’t take on loans for a career that doesn’t pay well in relation to the cost to earn a degree. All it takes is discipline.


No surprises here. Academia judges people by how much money they can bring in. Armstrong has a $200,000,000 donation on his resume. So what does he do when he comes to Cal Poly? Raise students fees multiple times. What happened to all those fundraising abilities? Armstrong bloated the number of administrators and gave them embarrassing salaries, at the same time as holding instructor salaries flat. He raise the number of out-of-state students to the 25% range to bring in extra fees. He built dorms and forced students to live in them. It’s a school, not a business; make intelligent decisions, not business decisions.

It’s all crashing down now Jeffrey. Your bad planning will ensure it’s a long crash.


Soon, more people will realize they are not getting their money’s worth; far from it. It’s like paying for Cable or Satellite TV: One day you just ask yourself, “why am I paying for commercials?” or “why am I paying for things I do not watch or want?”

In a similar vein, why would you pay to indoctrinate your children (barring, of course, you yourself have not been fully indoctrinated and cannot see it). And unless it’s a STEM field (for now), it’s likely a wasted major, if not seriously over-priced.

But hey, people can do with their money what they want. What I object to is how much the government is involved from top to bottom. I say let the universities compete, and eliminate ALL government funding as well as grants, loans, etc. for students.


Alot of the bloat is fueled by the student loan system. Then the university can charge more…. build bigger stadiums… hire more do-nothing bureaucrats… fund bigger pensions… and the student gets a useless degree and low paying job… and ends up paying for it for years. Scam.


Actual facts, my family.

Child 1 attended Cal Poly and graduated within 4 years taking summer classes, 4 years of parental support and tuition while living at the dorm and then in a house in SLO, books, living expenses etc. total was $100,000 for 4 years of higher education, said child earns just under $60,000 a year after being out of school and working for 7 years.

Child 2 went to Cuesta and also took summer classes 2 years, parental support during education, tuition was $6850 for 2 years, total costs for tuition, books and other living expenses as she lived at home approx $25,000 for two years, Child 2 graduated, RN earning just under$100,000 a year.

Cal Poly and other “Higher Education” facilities are overpriced and overrated, their employees are overpaid.

Hopefully, CV19 will change the way we educate our youth. It is apparent in many areas of education we can teach remotely, not in every field, but many.


And this Armstrong guy is making 400K plus per year. Now that’s justified. The rampant theft of our Govt. “officials” is mind blowing. The fact that all these thieves are not in prison is unbelievable while thousands of people are behind bars for marijuana crimes against society. We need to take our State back from these criminals.

Mitch C

Cal Poly’s administration is very bloated. There are staff members that have nothing to do with education. I have a Bachelors and Masters degrees from Poly and recently there was a media interview with the Vice Provost. During my six years at Poly I never heard of a “Provost”. To this day I have no idea what a Provost is and what their function is. It is obvious that if there was a Provost during my years at Poly that person had nothing to do with my learning. How many other positions are there like “Provost” are there – a position that collects a large salary but has nothing to do with imparting knowledge to students.


Well, for example; how else would they be able to pay for the retirement of Cal Poly Provost Kathleen Enz Finken, with benefits she annually earns $344,556.

or this, dated 7/2018; Cal Poly President Jeffrey Armstrong received a five-figure salary increase Tuesday as the California State University Board of Trustees approved 3 percent raises for high-ranking executives.

Armstrong received a $12,522 increase to raise his base salary to $429,915 — making him the third-highest paid executive in the CSU system. Only CSU Chancellor Timothy White and San Diego State University President Adela de la Torre make more.

De la Torre’s pay rose by $12,859 to $441,504, according to the board of trustees agenda.

Jorge Estrada

And with this news our governor is going to make the biggest education funding cuts on the K through grade 12 classes. I guess that makes sniveling for more Federal funding a better sell?

I once shared a dinner table with Cal Poly Board Trustee, “we’ll just price those people out”. So I thought to myself, Who are those people?, I guessed they are the ones you don’t see.


Think! They have to “cut” education otherwise they will never get support for whatever tax increase that’s up their sleeve. No one will support “raise taxes or we’ll have to slash our own budget” but education cuts allows the argument to be “about the children”


Not the ones they don’t see, only the ones that can $$$$$$$$$$ pay!

Throw your wallet into Cal Poly admittance office and let them riffel through it to see how much education you can afford for your child.