The California State University system added a third polytechnic university Wednesday when the Board of Trustees voted unanimously to turn Humboldt State University into a polytechnic institution.
The public university in Northern California will now focus predominantly on science, technology, engineering and math disciplines and plans to scale up its infrastructure and academic offerings over the next nine years to meet anticipated enrollment growth. Polytechnic institutions are typically more career-oriented than general education or liberal arts colleges.
“This is an affirmation of what we believed our campus to be for decades,” said Tom Jackson, president of the newly named California State Polytechnic University, Humboldt. “We’re already extremely strong in the sciences, the liberal arts, ocean and marine science, forestry—all those things. It’s not a big stretch for us as a university to amplify and add additional programs, particularly in the areas of engineering, technology and agriculture.”
The California State University system already includes two polytechnic universities, California State Polytechnic University, San Luis Obispo, which is a nine-hour drive south of Cal Poly Humboldt, and California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, located near Los Angeles. Jackson hopes Cal Poly Humboldt will help satisfy growing student demand for polytechnic education in the state.
“There are more than 20,000 students who do not get into Cal Poly Pomona or Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and want to,” Jackson said. “We’re saying, ‘Here’s a new option for you.’”
Cal Poly Humboldt has been working with Cal Poly Pomona and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo as it prepares to transition to a polytechnic, said Joseph I. Castro, chancellor of the CSU system.
“The two Cal Poly campuses have been supporting the development of a Cal Poly campus at Humboldt, providing faculty advice, and the presidents have met to discuss this idea,” Castro said. “There will be many ways in which they’ll work together, whether it’s in terms of research, strategies to support California’s growing development of STEM baccalaureate recipients, and many other areas of collaboration.”
Cal Poly Humboldt currently enrolls about 6,600 students, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. That number is expected to double over the next seven years, Jackson said.
“One challenge is making sure that we can grow our infrastructure, particularly our housing, to keep up with the interest that will come with being a polytechnic university,” he said.
The California state Legislature and Governor Gavin Newsom approved $458 million to seed the university’s expansion. Of that total, $433 million will be allocated as one-time funding, which university officials plan to spend on student housing, broadband infrastructure and added academic programming. The remaining $25 million in recurring funding will support new academic programs and foster economic growth in Humboldt County.
The state investment is “an economic boom for a very historically depressed region,” Jackson said. “I believe that is why it’s caught so much interest within California and particularly around here.”
When university officials first began discussing the transition to a polytechnic in 2020, they put in place a nine-year, phased plan to scale up the university’s academic offerings, said Jenn Capps, provost at Cal Poly Humboldt. By 2023, the university aims to offer eight new bachelor’s degrees, a new master’s degree and three new certificates in disciplines such as mechanical engineering, energy systems engineering, software engineering, data science, applied fire science and management, and a program that combines Indigenous and traditional ecology with engineering practice.
“We’re doing significant hiring right now,” Capps said. “We have 29 tenure-track recruitments that have been approved for the next academic year in all areas.”
In addition to building out its science and technology offerings, the university will also beef up its arts, music, critical race, Native American studies, and gender and sexuality programs.
“It’s important to us that we’re a comprehensive institution and that we’re well-rounded and broad in what we offer,” Capps said.
Cal Poly Humboldt officials do not anticipate any faculty or staff layoffs as a result of the new name and designation. Tuition and fees will also stay the same: $7,858 for in-state students for the 2021–22 academic year, according to the Cal Poly Humboldt website.