College community

Butte sees 8 percent lower enrollment, steps up to help students in wake of Camp Fire

The Butte College Foundation’s Camp Fire Relief Fund committee meets to discuss disbursing donations to affected students.

The Butte College Foundation’s Camp Fire Relief Fund committee meets to discuss disbursing donations to affected students.

Photo by Josh Cozine

Mykayla Moron was out of the area for her stepfather’s funeral when she heard about the Camp Fire on Nov. 8. She tried rushing back to her Paradise home, but it was too late. Her house and everything in it were lost, including her laptop.

As a full-time student at Butte College, studying business and marketing, Moron was concerned she would have to drop out. She stayed for a few weeks with her grandparents in Almanor. A few days of making the hour-and-a-half, one-way commute proved too challenging.

Thankfully for Moron, the school was accommodating, allowing her to take extra time off and even replacing her laptop. With the added bonus of being gifted an RV through a nonprofit, she’s been able to return to classes.

“It was heartwarming, seeing how much [Butte College] cared, and getting so much support,” she said.

Nestled in the foothills near Chico and Paradise, Butte College serves nearly 10,000 students, many who, like Moron, come from the areas of Paradise, Magalia and Concow.

As of spring 2019, enrollment was down by 823 students from the same time last year—an approximate 8 percent decline in the student population.

“It’s a pretty big loss,” said Clinton Slaughter, dean of Student Services.

That enrollment drop figure is nearly identical to the number of students known to have lived in areas affected by the Camp Fire—around 820, Slaughter said.

However, as has been evidenced throughout the region, it’s not just people who lived in the Camp Fire area who were affected—many people throughout Butte County lost jobs; friends and family members are doubled up in homes; and others are losing rental properties to the real estate market. All these effects and more were reflected in a survey of students taken after the fire.

The other, bigger issue, according to administrators like Allen Renville, vice president for Student Services, is that students are taking fewer units. Many affected by the fire who have returned this spring have noted that with various hardships—like increased commuting time, as many having moved to farther away towns like Corning, Orland, Red Bluff and even Sacramento—some have shifted to online classes only.

“It’s clear it’s had an impact,” Renville said.

In a small, somewhat cramped conference room, members of the Butte College Foundation’s Camp Fire Relief Fund committee gathered on an early morning the first day of February. There, they held a conference that went well beyond the hour-long time it was allotted.

“Let’s just give it all out,” said Hope Shapiro, representing the Office of Advancement and Development, speaking to a small group circling a small table with a phone open on conference call for others to join in.

On the agenda was how to spend what remained of the over $500,000 that had been donated to the college, first through campaigns, and then through the foundation, which had been set up specifically for the campus’ Camp Fire relief efforts.

“It was meant to be given out immediately,” she said.

After a passionate discussion, the committee decided to maintain a contingency fund of $20,000 to be awarded on a case-by-case basis by the Financial Aid Office, while the remaining was to be immediately given to Camp Fire survivors. Committee members used the survey results to determine the areas of most need. Aside from cash, they noticed a large number of students had lost their laptops in the fire.

“Lots of students were left without anything,” said Brian Murphy, director of Butte College Institutional Research. “One thing we kept noticing was students losing their laptops.”

The college has made a major point of replacing computers for students, so that they can remain enrolled in classes. Last month, 175 laptops were delivered to to the college, most of which have been given to students already. Another 250 are expected soon.

As for Moron, who received one of the donated laptops, she’s back in class, attending full-time this spring. It’s still difficult, though, as she’s now living in a small space with her son and younger brother and sister, along with their pets, in a Los Molinos trailer park.

“It’s still tough,” she said. “I have to take a three-hour night class and end up driving home at 10 o’clock. But [the college] has helped so much.”