Humboldt State University will conduct a self-study, at the request of the California State University system, examining whether it should become a polytechnic university.
HSU announced Monday that it would conduct the study and would complete it by spring 2021. There is no guarantee the university will become a polytechnic and no timetable for when it might.
“Designation and recognition of HSU as a polytechnic university would make your campus increasingly attractive to students from around California and beyond, creating a robust and stable student body at the undergraduate and graduate levels.” CSU chancellor Timothy White wrote in a letter dated Friday to HSU president Tom Jackson
By becoming a polytechnic university, HSU would join Cal Poly Pomona and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo as the third polytechnic CSU in the state and the only one in Northern California.
Jackson on Monday wrote in a letter, “this designation would build upon HSU’s strengths, help us meet important needs for the North Coast and California, and make our campus increasingly attractive to students from California and beyond. Building on the collective vision emerging from our academic and strategic planning, we can reimagine the polytechnic university for the 21st century — marked by a focus on sustainability, hands-on and career-focused programs, and a broad liberal arts education. Beyond traditional polytech programs, we can infuse traditional ecological knowledge, renewable technologies, equitable and ethical practices, and more. There are many possibilities, and I believe this is a time to raise our sights.”
HSU has the highest percentage of courses with a hands-on component in the CSU system, and it has the third-highest percentage of students in natural resources and STEM programs (behind Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and Cal Poly Pomona). HSU also has the CSU’s highest percentage of STEM graduates who go on to earn doctoral degrees, ranking eighth nationally among 660 master’s level institutions, the university said in a news release.
White said HSU was positioned well to meet needs the state’s future workforce needs.
“(HSU) is a vital institution on the North Coast and for California,” he wrote. “The campus currently has many distinct strengths in the sciences, with a special capacity for matters pertaining to forestry, oceanography, energy, and agriculture. As we look to the needs of California in the decades ahead, programs dealing with the development and application of new knowledge in the fire sciences, aquaculture, sustainable energy, North Coast crops, and environmental sustainability are among a few areas where HSU could provide world-class programs.”
College of the Redwoods president Keith Flamer, whose institution recently announced it would be introducing an aquaculture program to prepare students for job opportunities at the soon-to-be-built Nordic Aquafarms fish farm in Samoa, lauded the potential for more collaboration between the two schools.
“This will allow CR and HSU to expand the transfer pathway in the science, technology, engineering, mathematics, forestry and aquaculture fields,” Flamer said. “CR’s administration and faculty are committed to working with our (HSU) partners to build a pathway from our high-quality, STEM-related programs to HSU. It is a ‘win-win’ collaboration.”
A polytechnic designation, as described by both White and Jackson, would make HSU a more desirable destination for prospective students across the state, and nation, during a time in which HSU is combatting decreasing enrollment. HSU fields 85% of its students from outside the county.
Although the university did see a significant improvement over its estimated 2020-21 enrollment projection, the university is still planning for a 20% decline in enrollment for 2021-22 because of current “uncertainty” amid the coronavirus pandemic and other uncontrollable factors.
Jackson, in an interview with the Times-Standard, said HSU already offers a number of polytechnic courses.
“This would enable us to play on those strengths,” Jackson said. “It’s no secret that California needs a more career-minded, technically trained people in its workforce. Being a polytechnic is a very specific brand, and it is one we are already delivering.”
The state’s other two polytechnic universities, according to Jackson, turn away more students yearly than HSU enrolls.
“I’m not saying we would get all those students, but (HSU becoming a polytechnic) would give those students another option,” he said.
Jackson said, for example, HSU may look at adding more types of engineering courses and increasing its offerings in its sustainability and environmental science course, areas which would give HSU its own lane in the CSU’s polytechnic trio, should it become one. Jackson said specific course additions would be up to faculty to determine what is best.
“It’s about growth in certain areas to meet the needs of this state,” Jackson said. “Being a polytechnic doesn’t mean we would lose anything we already have — it just means we would gain more.”
As Nordic Aquafarms nears construction of its fish farm, and as RTI Industries prepares to land a series of fiber-optic cables stretching from Singapore to Humboldt County’s coast and connect them in Arcata with other new lines from the Digital 299 project, Jackson says it “couldn’t be a more opportune time for Humboldt State, and for our county, for HSU to become a polytechnic school.”
“This is big,” Jackson said. “This is one of the biggest things that, potentially, could happen to this university in its history. This a game changer.”
North Coast Congressman Jared Huffman lauded the potential for the district he represents.
“Becoming the third polytechnic university in the CSU system could be an exciting way forward for HSU, its students, and the North Coast community,” he said.
Third District Supervisor Mike Wilson, whose district includes Arcata, called it a natural fit.
“To me, it’s a recognition of the important role this institution continues to play in our understanding of natural systems, our impacts on the planet and the quest for solutions to make all communities more resilient,” Wilson said.