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California Polytechnic State University

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Motto in English  To Learn by Doing
Endowment  $190.3 million (2016)
Acceptance rate  29.5% (2016)
Phone  +1 805-756-1111
Colors  Green, Gold
Type  Public Space grant
President  Jeffrey Armstrong
Total enrollment  20,944 (2015)
Mascot  Musty the Mustang, Chase
California Polytechnic State University
Motto  Discere Faciendo (Latin)
Established  March 8, 1901 (1901-03-08)
Address  San Luis Obispo, CA 93407, USA
Undergraduate tuition and fees  Local tuition: 9,000 USD (2015)
Notable alumni  John Madden, Burt Rutan, Jeff Denham, Robert L Gibson, Ozzie Smith
Similar  California State Polytechn, University of California, California State University, California State University, California State University

California polytechnic state university san luis obispo

California Polytechnic State University or California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, also known as Cal Poly San Luis Obispo or Cal Poly, is a public university located in San Luis Obispo, California, United States. Founded in 1901 as a vocational high school, it is currently one of only two polytechnic universities in the 23-member California State University system. Comprising six distinct colleges, the university offers 64 bachelor's degrees, 32 master's degrees, and 7 teaching credentials. The university does not currently grant doctoral degrees.


Cal Poly is a member of the American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU) and the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities. Cal Poly is known for its "learn by doing" educational philosophy that encourages students to solve real-world problems by combining classroom theory with experiential laboratory exercise. The most prevalent major at Cal Poly is Business Administration, followed by Mechanical Engineering and Biological Sciences. Cal Poly is one of four California State Universities that participate in the Big West Conference in athletics.


Cal Poly was established in 1901 when Governor Henry T. Gage signed the California Polytechnic School Bill. The university started out as the California Polytechnic School founded by Myron Angel. The polytechnic school held its first classes on October 1, 1903, offering secondary level courses of study, which took three years to complete. The first incoming class was 20 students. The school continued to grow steadily, except during a period from the mid 1910s to the early 1920s when World War I led to drops in enrollment and drastic budget cuts forced fewer class offerings.

In 1924, Cal Poly was placed under the control of the California State Board of Education. In 1933, the Board of Education changed Cal Poly into a two-year technical and vocational school. The institution began to offer Bachelor of Arts degrees in 1940, with the first baccalaureate exercises held in 1942. The school was renamed the California State Polytechnic College in 1947 to better reflect its higher education offerings, and in 1949, a Master of Arts degree in education was added. In 1960, control of Cal Poly and all other state colleges was transferred from the State Board of Education to an independent Board of Trustees, which later became the California State University system.

The college was authorized to offer Master of Science degrees in 1967. From 1967 to 1970, the school’s curriculum was reorganized into different units (such as the School of Science and Math, the School of Agriculture and Natural Resources, and the School of Architecture, which was created in 1968). Cal Poly's FM radio station, KCPR, also began as a senior project in 1968. The state legislature changed the school’s official name again in 1971 to California Polytechnic State University. Since the 1970s, the university has seen steady enrollment growth and the construction of many significant buildings on campus. Cal Poly celebrated its centennial in 2001, and kicked off a $225 million fundraising campaign, the largest fund raising effort ever undertaken in CSU history. The Centennial Campaign raised over $264 million from over 81,000 donors, more than tripling the university’s endowment from $43 million to over $140 million. Cal Poly's $190.3 million endowment in 2016 was ranked 308th out of 815 colleges and universities in the United States and Canada.

Relationship with Cal Poly Pomona

Cal Poly Pomona began as a satellite campus of Cal Poly in 1938 when a completely equipped school and farm were donated by Charles Voorhis and his son Jerry Voorhis of Pasadena, California, and was initially called the Voorhis Unit. The W.K. Kellogg Foundation then donated an 812-acre (329 ha) horse ranch in Pomona, California to Cal Poly in 1949. Located about one mile (1.6 km) from the Voorhis campus, the two became known as Cal Poly Kellogg-Voorhis. Cal Poly Kellogg-Voorhis broke off from Cal Poly in 1966, becoming the fully independent university, California State Polytechnic University, Pomona (Cal Poly Pomona). Since 1949, the two campuses have cooperated on creating a float for the Rose Parade. Today, the long-running float program still boasts floats designed and constructed entirely by students year-round on both campuses.

1960 football team plane crash

On October 29, 1960, a chartered plane carrying the Cal Poly football team, hours after a loss to Bowling Green State University, crashed on takeoff at the Toledo Express Airport in Toledo, Ohio. Twenty-two of the 48 people on board were killed, including 16 players.

Female admissions

In 1904, Cal Poly opened as a coeducational school with 40 new male students and 12 new female students. In 1930, Cal Poly banned women from the entire school until 1956 when Cal Poly once again began admitting female students. The university remains coeducational today, with women constituting 46.7% of the Fall 2015 total student population.


The university's style guide indicates its official names are "California Polytechnic State University" and "Cal Poly." When necessary to distinguish between Cal Poly and its former satellite campus, Cal Poly Pomona, the lengthier "Cal Poly at San Luis Obispo" is occasionally used. The California State University system's style guide identifies the university as "California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo."

  • Leroy Anderson, 1902–1907
  • Leroy Burns Smith, 1908–1914
  • Robert Weir Ryder, 1914–1921
  • Nicholas Ricciardi, 1921–1924
  • Margaret Chase (Acting), 1924
  • Benjamin Ray Crandall, 1924–1933
  • Julian A. McPhee, 1933–1966
  • Dale W. Andrews (acting), 1966–1967
  • Robert E. Kennedy, 1967–1979
  • Warren J. Baker, 1979–2010
  • Robert Glidden (Acting), 2010–2011
  • Jeffrey D. Armstrong, 2011–present
  • Campus

    Cal Poly has one of the largest college campuses in the United States. It owns 9,678 acres and is the second largest land-holding university in California. The lands are used for student education and include the main campus, two nearby agricultural lands, and two properties in Santa Cruz County. Part of the Cal Poly property is the Swanton Pacific Ranch, a 3,200-acre (1,300 ha) ranch located in Santa Cruz County, California, outside the town of Davenport. The ranch provides educational and research opportunities, encompasses rangeland, livestock, and forestry operations for the College of Agriculture, Food, and Environmental sciences, and fosters Cal Poly’s teaching philosophy of “Learn by Doing” with emphasis on sustainable management of agricultural practices with a mix of laboratory experiments.


    The Cal Poly Master Plan calls to increase student population from approximately 17,000 students to 20,900 students by the year 2020–2021. To maintain the university's "Learn by Doing" philosophy and low class sizes, the master plan calls for an increase in classrooms, laboratories, and professors.

    Current construction

    Student Housing South: Cal Poly Student Housing South project is a dormitory style student community located at the corner of Slack Street and Grand Avenue. The project will consist of seven 3- to 5-story concrete framed freshman residence hall buildings with 1,475 beds and an adjacent four-level parking structure. Additional community space for the housing complex and the campus will wrap the parking structure on three sides. These spaces will include a small café, community room, game room, mail room, welcome center, offices, and maintenance shop. Site improvements will include a large open space in the center of the project for activities and group events, volleyball and basketball courts, and outdoor gathering spaces at each building. Webcor Builders and Valerio Dewalt Train Associates is the Design Build Team. Projected construction completion is Summer 2018.

    Recent construction

    The Warren J. Baker Center for Science and Mathematics was dedicated November 1, 2013. It replaced the aging "spider" Science Building 52, built in the 1950s, with a new 189,000-square-foot (17,600 m2) structure. The $119 million, six-story building was made possible by voter-approved state education bonds and $18 million in private donations. The Center adds new laboratories, classrooms, and offices for the physics, chemistry and soil science programs, as well as an open area and terraces for student study and meeting places. The top floor of the Center houses labs and offices for the school's Western Coatings Technologies Center and the Environmental Biotechnology Institute. It is the second largest and most technologically advanced structure on campus. In the space between the remaining wings of the old "Spider Building" and the new Center is Centennial Park, a landscaped central green.

    A new 1,475-bed freshman dormitory complex on the southern end of campus began construction in September 2015, and is expected to conclude by Fall 2018.

    Planned construction

    The Academic Center and Library Building Project: A program planning for an expanded Library and Academic Center began in 2007. Current plans call for a design phase to begin in 2013, with a two-year construction phase projected to begin in 2015 or earlier. The new Academic Center will be a LEED-certified building of nearly 113,000 gsf, connected with the original Kennedy Library by a broad, above ground concourse. Formal and informal meeting spaces, including ample collaborative spaces, will encourage interactions among students, faculty, and staff from across the entire campus and community.

    The J.G. Boswell Agricultural Research Center: The Agricultural Research Center was announced in May 2014 with a $8 million gift from the James G. Boswell Foundation. The research center will include laboratories to support sensory, food safety, plant pathology, enology and genomics. The Boswell Center will be built on the current site of the remaining portion of the "spider" science building.


    Campus parking is limited. In its most recent survey of available parking spaces on campus, the Cal Poly University Police reported 2,892 general purpose parking spaces, 3,492 dorm resident spaces, and 8,648 total spaces. In its facilities Master Plan, the university admits that while more parking spots will be added, the actual ratio of parking to students will decrease since enrollment is expected to increase sharply. To resolve the disparity, the Master Plan calls on the university to reduce the demand for individual vehicle parking. As part of that plan, the university has constructed additional dorms and has tried to make campus life more desirable. In addition, Cal Poly Commuter and Access Services has successfully promoted alternatives to commuting in single occupancy vehicles: in the past 10 years, bus use has more than doubled and the use of bicycles has close to quadrupled.

    Currently, there are over 6,500 bike rack spaces and 224 secure bike lockers available on campus; 57% of students and 33% of faculty/staff live within 5 miles of the Cal Poly campus, an easy bike commute. The city's SLO Transit bus system provides service to and from campus. Cal Poly financially supports SLO Transit with funding from parking citation revenue (not from state general funds nor from student tuition), so faculty, staff, and students ride for free. Bus service throughout the county is provided by SLO Regional Transit Authority. Discounted passes are available to the Cal Poly community.


    The university currently offers bachelor's degrees and master's degrees in six colleges:

  • College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Sciences
  • College of Architecture and Environmental Design
  • Orfalea College of Business
  • College of Engineering
  • College of Liberal Arts
  • College of Science and Mathematics
  • Bachelor's projects

    All undergraduate students at Cal Poly are required to complete a senior project. The senior project is intended to be a capstone experience for students receiving a baccalaureate degree by integrating theory and application from across a student's undergraduate educational experiences. The senior project consists of one or more of the following: a design or construction experience, an experiment, a self-guided study or research project, a presentation, a report based on internship, co-op, or service learning experience, and/or a public portfolio display or performance. Senior projects have often led to students obtaining jobs or recognition for their work. In July 2011, a company created from a Senior Project, Punchd, was acquired by Google. Jamba Juice, founded as "Juice Club", was inspired by the Senior Project idea, but was founded after the founders had graduated.


    Cal Poly's admissions process is "more selective" according to U.S. News & World Report.

    For students entering Fall 2016, 14,202 freshmen were accepted out of 48,162 applicants, a 29.5% acceptance rate. The middle 50% range of SAT scores for the enrolled freshmen was 560–660 for critical reading and 590–700 for math, while the ACT Composite range was 26–31. The average high school GPA was 3.92. Men constituted 50.3% of the incoming class of 2020, women 49.7%. For Fall 2016 transfer students, Cal Poly accepted 1,658 of 8,753 applicants, an 18.9% acceptance rate.

    Cal Poly requires students to declare a major when applying for admission, and the university then admits the most competitive applicants within each major based on GPA and SAT or ACT scores. As a result, changing majors at the university is not guaranteed. Each major has a specific change of major plan which includes required classes to be taken while maintaining a certain GPA (usually between 2.5–2.75) in order to be considered as a candidate. In some cases students wishing to change majors transfer to other universities.


    Cal Poly ranked 32nd in the nation on PayScale 's 2016 "College ROI Report," which ranked 1,343 colleges and universities. According to PayScale's projections, Cal Poly has a 20-year net return on investment of $698,000. This ROI is the highest in the California State University system and is higher than all of the University of California schools except UC Berkeley.

    Washington Monthly ranked Cal Poly 40th in the "National Universities - Masters" category in 2016 based on its contribution to the public good in three broad categories: social mobility, research, and service.

    Cal Poly is ranked 83rd in the nation in The Daily Beast's 2014 "Guide to the Best Colleges", which evaluated nearly 2,000 colleges and universities.

    In 2016, Forbes magazine rated Cal Poly No. 167 out of the 660 best private and public colleges and universities in America. In 2008, the first year of the list, Cal Poly was ranked No. 369 out of 569.

    Money magazine ranked Cal Poly 131st in the country out of 705 schools evaluated for its 2016 "Best Value College Rankings."

    For 2017, Kiplinger ranked Cal Poly 21st out of the top 100 best-value public colleges and universities in the nation, and 5th in California.

    The Wall Street Journal's rankings by major placed Cal Poly 18th for engineering majors and 22nd for business or economics majors in 2010.

    In the 2016 edition of "America's Best Architecture & Design Schools" published by the architecture and design journal DesignIntelligence, Cal Poly was ranked the No. 2 undergraduate architecture program in the nation. The landscape architecture program was ranked 6th in the country and 1st in the Western region.

    Cal Poly’s Orfalea College of Business was named to BusinessWeek magazine’s list of the nation’s top undergraduate business colleges, ranked No. 70 on the 2014 list.

    Cal Poly’s graduate program in City and Regional Planning ranked No. 1 in the Planetizen 2011 Guide to Graduate Urban Planning Programs in the U.S. for programs whose highest degree is a Master's.

    In 2009, the magazine Diverse Issues in Higher Education placed Cal Poly among the top 10 of its “Top 100 Degree Producers 2009” ranking. This places the university in the top 10 schools in the nation in granting degrees to Hispanic, Asian and other minority students in agriculture, architecture and engineering.

    Cal Poly was ranked the 37th top college in the United States by the Social Mobility Index college rankings.

    According to U.S. News & World Report's 2017 "America's Best Colleges" report, Cal Poly is ranked 1st in the Western United States for regional public schools whose highest degree is a Master's, and tied for 9th overall (including private schools). The same report ranked the College of Engineering tied for 5th of undergraduate engineering schools in the U.S. whose highest degree is a Master's, with national program rankings of:

  • Environmental/Environmental Health engineering: 1st
  • Civil Engineering: 3rd
  • Electrical Engineering: tied for 4th
  • Mechanical Engineering: 5th
  • Tuition

    Due to continued reductions in state funding, Fall 2011 fees for the average student reached approximately $2,600 per quarter. For comparison, the Spring 2002 fees for the average student were $760 per quarter. While total yearly fees for an in-state student were just $2,976 in 2002, students entering in fall 2011 faced an annual fee of over $7,900.

    Of the students enrolled in fall 2014, 61.6% of undergraduates and 70.0% of first-time freshmen received some form of financial aid in 2014–15. The amount of financial aid awarded in 2014–15 totaled $151.5 million, of which 64.3% came from federal funds, 11.9% came from state funds and 17.5% came from institutional funds. Loans comprised 55.6% of the financial aid, 31.2% came in the form of grants, and 10.2% in scholarships.


    Cal Poly’s endowment more than tripled during its Centennial Campaign from $43.1 million to $140.1 million. Growth is attributed to gifts and prudent stewardship. However, since 2007, the university's endowment has fluctuated dramatically, going from $181.7 million in 2007 to $130.9 million in 2009, before rebounding to $190.3 million in 2016.

    Residence halls

    Cal Poly's on-campus student housing of 6,239 spaces is the largest student housing program in the California State University system. Cal Poly housed 35.9% of fall 2015 undergraduates in 28 dorms on campus, and 98.7% of first-time freshmen lived on campus, even though Cal Poly does not require them to do so. In addition, 28.7% of Cal Poly sophomores lived on campus in fall 2015.

    There are five distinct groups of residence halls on the Cal Poly campus. The five North Mountain halls, constructed in the 1950s, are the oldest on campus still used for residential purposes. The six "red-brick" halls were completed shortly afterward in 1959. The Sierra Madre and Yosemite halls were finished by 1968, and the Cerro Vista Apartments were completed in 2003. The Poly Canyon Village housing complex, with a similar style as the Cerro Vista apartments, was completed in 2009 at a cost of $300 million, making it the California State University system's largest construction project to date.

    Each of the residence halls represent a different living community on campus. The six red-brick halls are the Living-Learning Program halls for the different colleges of Cal Poly. The five North Mountain halls are organizationally a part of the engineering Living-Learning Program. The Sierra Madre and Yosemite halls are the First-Year Connection Program halls and focus on freshman-oriented transition programs. All buildings house students of all majors. The Cerro Vista Apartments is the Transitions community for first-year and second-year students. Poly Canyon Village is the Sophomore Success Program community, which is open to primarily to sophomores, but also juniors and seniors, and helps students transition into independent living.

    Greek life

    Greek organizations have been at Cal Poly since 1949. The Greek community consists of three governing councils at Cal Poly: United Sorority and Fraternity Council (USFC), Interfraternity Council (IFC), and Panhellenic Association (PHA).

    There are currently:
    9 USFC Fraternities/Sororities: Alpha Kappa Delta Phi, Chi Delta Theta, Gamma Zeta Alpha, Lambda Phi Epsilon, Lambda Sigma Gamma, Lambda Theta Alpha, Lambda Theta Phi, Omega Xi Delta, Sigma Omega Nu

    17 IFC Fraternities: Alpha Epsilon Pi, Alpha Gamma Rho, Beta Theta Pi, Delta Chi, Delta Tau Delta, Delta Upsilon, Lambda Chi Alpha, Nu Alpha Kappa, Phi Kappa Psi, Phi Sigma Kappa, Sigma Nu, Sigma Pi, Tau Kappa Epsilon, Theta Chi, Zeta Beta Tau, Kappa Sigma

    9 Panhellenic Sororities: Alpha Chi Omega, Alpha Epsilon Phi, Alpha Omicron Pi, Alpha Phi, Chi Omega, Gamma Phi Beta, Kappa Alpha Theta, Kappa Kappa Gamma, Sigma Kappa

    14 Professional Fraternities: Alpha Chi Sigma (Chemistry), Alpha Kappa Psi (Business), Alpha Pi Mu (Industrial Engineering), Alpha Rho Chi (Architecture), Alpha Tau Alpha (Agriculture), Chi Epsilon (Civil and Environmental Engineering), Delta Sigma Pi (Business), Eta Kappa Nu (Computer and Electrical Engineering), Rho Lambda (Community Service), Rho Phi Lambda (Recreation, Parks, and Leisure), Sigma Alpha (Agriculture), Sigma Gamma Tau (Engineering), Tau Beta Pi (Engineering), Xi Sigma Pi (Forestry)

    Week of Welcome orientation program

    The Week of Welcome program, more commonly known as "WOW", serves as a volunteer-based orientation program for new students during the first week after move-in during the beginning of the school year in September. Its purpose is to introduce students to the campus and the community and prepare them for a successful college career. Freshmen are placed in a group with 10–12 other new students while transfer students are in groups of 40-60; each group is led by two current Cal Poly student orientation leaders. The "WOW" groups participate in an array of orientation events in addition to activities both on- and off-campus. In 2010, the awareness section of the program won the 2010 National Orientation Directors Association (NODAC) Media & Publications Showcase Award in the Emerging Technologies. The awareness section was entirely developed by student volunteers. The program started in 1956 and is now the largest volunteer orientation program in the nation.

    Clubs and independent student organizations

    Cal Poly has many recognized clubs and independent student organizations operating on campus. Included (a full list available on the Associated Students, Incorporated website) are over 150 groups, including, among many others, cultural clubs and exchanges, mathematics and science clubs, religious and atheistic groups, service organizations, engineering research and development clubs, professional development organizations, a perennial Rose Parade Float design club, LGBTQ+ and Multicultural groups, competitive and social athletic teams, and academic honors clubs.


    Cal Poly fields 20 varsity sports (10 each for men and women) and participates in the NCAA's Division I.

    Cal Poly competes in the Big West Conference, except for football and wrestling (neither of which are sponsored by the Big West). Cal Poly's football team competes in the Big Sky Conference; the wrestling team is a member of the Pac-12 Conference. Prior to joining Division I in 1994, the school won 35 NCAA Division II national team championships and competed in the NCAA Division II California Collegiate Athletic Association (CCAA). Cal Poly's mascot is Musty the Mustang, and the spirit group is the Mustang Maniacs.

    Cal Poly also offers various non varsity sports. The Mustangs play college rugby in the California conference of Division 1-A. The Mustangs are often ranked in the Top 25 nationwide, and their rugby sevens team has been ranked as high as 7th. The Mustangs finished 8th in the nation at the 2011 USA Rugby Sevens Collegiate National Championships, and 12th at the 2012 competition.

    Four administrative divisions

    The university is organized administratively into four divisions: Academic Affairs, Student Affairs, Administration and Finance, and University Advancement. The academic division is organized into six colleges, each with its own dean. Academic Affairs also includes the Library, Research and Graduate Programs, and Information Technology Services.

    Cal Poly Corporation

    The Cal Poly Corporation is a public-benefit, nonprofit corporation and university auxiliary. It provides commercial services, fiscal services, and key support services to assist and promote the educational mission of Cal Poly and the California State University System (CSU). The Corporation engages only in those activities ancillary to state operation that are requested by Cal Poly’s President and approved by the CSU. The corporation was founded in 1940 and was known as the Cal Poly Foundation until February 1, 2006.

    Cal Poly Foundation

    The Cal Poly Foundation is an auxiliary organization and IRC 501(c)(3) public charity that accepts and administers tax deductible gifts to the university. The Cal Poly Foundation leads campus philanthropic activity by supporting fundraising activities and investing and managing the campus endowments.

    Cal Poly Continuing Education

    The Cal Poly Continuing Education provides access to degree, certificate, and professional development programs and services of the university to the citizens of San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, and Monterey Counties and through distance learning technologies to students across the country.

    Associated Students Inc.

    The Associated Students Inc. (ASI) is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation owned and operated by Cal Poly student leaders. ASI has an annual operating budget in excess of $12 million. ASI provides co-curricular experiences for students, faculty, and staff, including events, speakers, concerts, intramural sports, fitness programs, aquatics, outdoor adventure trips, craft center enrichment courses, club services, and child development. ASI manages the University Union, Recreation Center, Sports Complex, and Children’s Center, totaling more than 450,000 square feet (42,000 m2) of campus facilities.

    Alumni Association

    The Cal Poly Alumni Association seeks to engage and serve alumni; to foster a lifelong connection between the University and its alumni; and to foster goodwill and support for the University. The association includes 15 regional and special interest chapters.

    Notable alumni

    Cal Poly has more than 170,000 alumni living and working everywhere from New York to Washington D.C. to Wisconsin to Idaho to Hawaii. Some notable alumni include Peter Oppenheimer, former Chief Financial Officer of Apple Inc.; aerospace pioneer Burt Rutan; singer Weird Al Yankovic; and Pro Football Hall of Fame coach John Madden.


    California Polytechnic State University Wikipedia