By Xol Aceytuno, Sept. 28, 2021

Cal Poly Pomona admitted and enrolled 6,581 undergraduate students this fall semester, a 19.7% drop from last fall’s incoming class of 8,538 students. This year’s incoming group is the smallest in six years despite a record 58,142 applicants, and it contrasts with last year’s soar in enrollment.

For campus administrators, the continued surge in applications came as a surprise and highlighted the larger uncertainty surrounding admissions during the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite the dip in enrollment, the incoming class is among the most diverse at CPP with approximately 80% of students being of minorized identities.

“I think the pandemic created a situation where we saw figures we did not anticipate,” said Terri Gomez, associate provost for student success, equity and innovation. “For those of us in Academic Affairs, it wasn’t an intentional effort to over-enroll, the cause for the larger class was the unpredictability of the incoming class, of the freshmen applications. We actually anticipated there would be a drop in applications and interest locally.”

Cal Poly Pomona’s incoming class headcount from 2011 to 2021 fall terms | Source: Institutional Research, Planning, and Analysis; Enrollment Management & Services (Nicolas Hernandez and Alexander Osornio | The Poly Post)

Out of the 58,142 applicants, 60.9% of freshmen and 63.4% of transfer students were offered admission, though the rate of students accepting those offers were 16.6% for freshmen and 38% for transfer students. The incoming class is split almost evenly with 3,384 transfer students and 3,467 freshmen students admitted.

Last year, Cal Poly Pomona saw an unexpected rise in enrollment numbers during a time when national undergraduate enrollment was down 4%. While northern California State University campuses were hit with enrollment losses from 20 to 30 percent, many Southern California campuses retained the students who could not go north due to the pandemic.

“All of the Northern California campuses had a drop,” said Jessica Wagoner, senior associate vice president for Enrollment and Management Services. “Students stayed home; there was no housing. The housing availability up north was a problem so they stayed home. People were scared. They wanted to be close to the family. It was all just very unpredictable.”

The Office of Admissions is also facing challenges when looking at projected numbers for enrollment because its three-year average model is no longer reliable. The three-year average model helps determine potential yield rates by looking at previous year’s yield rates as a guide to gauge how many students to admit and how many students might enroll. The predictive model projected another 3% rise, but the admissions office quickly realized this was inaccurate, as the incoming class was lower than expected.

“Some of the reasons why our predictive modeling is not working is because COVID is wreaking havoc on a lot of people’s lives,” said Director of Admissions Brandon Tuck. “Students are losing their jobs; their families have lost their jobs. There are a lot of factors at play that make this year, next year, a little harder to predict.”

Last year, the CSU Chancellor’s Office adjusted some admissions requirements to accommodate for the disruption in prospective students’ learning environments. Some of these adjustments include accepting “credit/no credit” or “pass/non-passing” grading options for the spring 2020 semester, as well as not requiring the SAT or ACT.

While some adjustments were rescinded for fall 2021, the SAT and ACT remain suspended. With the SAT and ACT out of the discussion, CPP is utilizing a multi-factor admissions model to assess students holistically.

“Before, we were looking at this one point in time when they took a test on a Saturday, whether or not they were able to receive tutoring, extra help, a fee waiver, all these different things, but we can find out a lot about an applicant through the application,” said Tuck. “We can use those things to determine whether or not they are admissible to the CSU and Cal Poly Pomona.”

According to Tuck, by removing the SAT and ACT and creating the multi-factor admissions model, CPP has expanded access for underrepresented minority students and women who traditionally score lower than their white male counterparts. Previously, students who scored a 570 or below on the math portion of the SAT were automatically denied admission to impacted STEM programs, but the new admissions model has opened the door for students looking to pursue a career in STEM.

CPP observed a 10% increase in underrepresented minority students in the freshmen class and a 12% increase to impacted programs. There was a 9% increase of women and a 10% increase of first-generation students admitted to impacted programs.

The steady growth of underrepresented minority students began after semester conversion. Since then, CPP has seen a growth in African American, Latinx, Native American and first-generation students.

According to Wagoner, the incoming class identifies as 50% Latinx, 22% Asian, 14% white, 3% Black, 4% international, 4% two or more races, 3% unknown, less than 1% Native Hawaiian or Native Pacific Islander and less than 1% Native American Indigenous.

Alongside the growing number of minoritized students on campus, the admissions office is working to ensure accurate representation of these students within the data. In 2019, the CSU Chancellor’s Office added non-binary to the list of genders in the admissions application. Though this will only allow CPP to track incoming non-binary students, there is an option for returning students to update their demographic information in the student portal.

“By the CSU taking the step to put nonbinary on the application, the CSU is saying we care about these students,” said Tuck. “Now that we are capturing the data, we can be intentional about the outreach efforts to these students. Before, they were just included with everybody else, and we couldn’t tell who some of these students were. Being able to track our underrepresented minority students, nonbinary students and other segments of the population, allows us to be more intentional in what we do.”

The effect data pose on policy has motivated parenting students in past ASI discussions to call for the university to collect statistics on parenting students on campus. Even though students can fill out whether they are parents on the CSU application, CPP does not go back to pull that information from the application.

According to Wagoner, this is something the campus needs to do to begin responding to the needs of parenting students in the same way it has for nonbinary students.

Currently there is no way to identify the number of parenting students on campus. Ishia Barajas, parenting student liaison and enrollment coordinator at the Children’s Center, has been tracking parenting students if they reach out to the Children’s Center or the Parenting Student Club. However, Barajas believes that having concrete data on the general parenting student population would help justify the call for support.

“We can scream at the top of our lungs about how much supports are needed but without that concrete data to show how many parenting students are actually here, we have no actual numbers to back up what we’re trying to create here, which is a family-friendly culture,” Barajas added.

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