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Cal Poly SLO enrolls the lowest rate of Black students among all the state’s public universities

Cal Poly SLO enrolls the lowest rate of Black students among all the state’s public universities


Mikhail Zinshteyn
November 28, 2022
The most selective university in the California State University system enrolled a miniscule 146 undergraduate Black students this fall.
Pick a common benchmark for racial or social inclusion and California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo is likely to trail all California public universities.
No Cal State or University of California campus, 32 undergraduate-serving institutions in total, enrolls a smaller percentage of Black undergraduate students than Cal Poly — just under 0.7% this fall. Across both systems, the campus has enrolled the smallest share of Black undergraduate students annually between 2003 and 2021 — and below 1% for most of those years.
Cal Poly is among the toughest public universities in California to enter and graduates students who go on to earn strong wages — an amazing value given the relatively low cost to attend a university in a system that’s proud of its reputation for access and inclusion. And yet Cal Poly is an anomaly, lacking much of the diversity of all the other UCs and Cal State campuses, even when compared to highly selective institutions such as UCLA, UC Berkeley and San Diego State.
Cal Poly attracts the smallest percentage of Black freshman applicants of any Cal State or UC campus and also enrolls few Black students who transfer from community colleges. Black students who spoke with CalMatters described both explicit and subtle acts of racism they experienced on campus, and the minimal trust they have in campus authorities to intervene.
All those factors are related in complex ways. Black students said they’d likely experience less direct racism and feel less isolated as the only Black person in a classroom if Cal Poly just had more Black students. But the paucity of Black students on campus is a key impediment toward attracting more of them — an almost self-fulfilling prophecy in which Black student applicants seeking a larger community of students who look like them go elsewhere. It’s a classic “chicken-and-egg” problem.
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