The promise

Butte College expands tuition-free scholarship program to two years

Butte College set up information booths at City Plaza in Chico last Thursday (Aug. 8) to educate people about its Promise Scholarship Program.

Butte College set up information booths at City Plaza in Chico last Thursday (Aug. 8) to educate people about its Promise Scholarship Program.

Photo by Andre Byik

Riley Hollstrom had a choice to make.

After graduating from Paradise High School in 2018, she weighed starting her undergraduate studies at Butte College against moving south and enrolling at Santa Barbara City College.

And while the 18-year-old business major had been leaning toward Santa Barbara—where she has family—the scales ultimately tipped in favor of Butte College for a simple reason: free tuition and fees.

Hollstrom said she completed her first year at Butte College under the school’s Promise Scholarship Program, which was instituted last fall and pays all tuition and fees for eligible full-time students.

The scholarship, which is set to expand this fall from one year to two, has made purchasing books more manageable and generally eased the costs of living, Hollstrom told the CN&R. Essentially, it’s made college affordable.

“A lot more affordable,” said Hollstrom, who also works at Butte College as a receptionist and lost her home in the Camp Fire.

These days Hollstrom lives in Chico, where she says she has a reliable group of friends and supporters. With the scholarship program extended, she intends to continue her studies at Butte College this year, with an eye toward transferring to Chico State.

Hollstrom’s story illustrates what school officials hoped its Promise Scholarship Program would accomplish: attract first-year students, including first- and second-generation college students and retain them and grow enrollment.

“We were on an upward trajectory, and then all of a sudden the fire happened,” said Tammera Shinar, director of financial aid and veterans services. “We were really excited because we were like, ‘Yes, the Promise is doing what we wanted it to do.’ We saw the numbers. … We were going in an upward motion.”

Butte College’s fall 2018 enrollment totaled 11,820 students, up from 11,689 in fall 2017, according to California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office data.

Shinar said the school lost more than 1,000 students in the wake of the fire, with many moving out of the area. And according to Clinton Slaughter, dean of student services for Butte College, Butte’s estimated fall enrollment will be down between 400 and 500 students from fall 2018.

Shinar said officials hope the Promise Scholarship Program serves as an incentive for fire survivors to attend Butte College. The school also has developed programs that are designed to train students in skills that can be applied to the rebuild effort, such as new construction management programs and its heating, ventilation, air conditioning and refrigeration (HVACR) program.

“We went to work instantly,” Shinar said. “We started working with our community partners and being part of the conversation of, ‘What is Paradise going to need?’”

The state Legislature established the California College Promise in 2017 through Assembly Bill 19, giving community colleges the option to waive fees for one year for first-time students who enroll in 12 or more semester units and complete a Free Application for Federal Student Aid or a California Dream Act application. State funding is distributed by the chancellor of California Community Colleges.

The Legislature has introduced legislation meant to expand California College Promise for two years, and Butte College announced it was expanding its scholarship program to two years this fall through a combination of state and private funding.

Most notably, Shinar said, Butte College previously received a $1 million endowment from alumnus Ken Grossman, founder of Sierra Nevada Brewing Co., and his wife, Katie Gosner, to support the school’s scholarship program.

Shinar said Butte College’s scholarship program cost about $480,000 to fund in its first year, with most of the money coming from the state. The school funded 609 students last year, and it estimates about 1,200 will be eligible for the scholarship this fall. Subsidized tuition and fees, Shinar said, appears to be the future of community college funding in the state.

“I think that we have had plenty of talks about—why do we even charge tuition and fees?” she said. “Why don’t we just get rid of it, right? And so the Legislature’s response was, ‘Well, show me the price tag for that.’ And that’s always a fun conversation to have.”

At the Thursday Night Market in Chico last week (Aug. 8), Butte College staff set up booths promoting the Promise Scholarship Program, handing out free T-shirts, water and information to passersby. Some stopped for the T-shirts. Others, the water. But some also learned about the program for the first time.

“They’re excited,” said Christine Miller, financial aid and veterans services assistant for Butte College. “A lot of people are like, ‘I wish they had that when I was going to school,’ which I can understand.”

Miller said the school’s scholarship program opens the door for students who may not have otherwise had the means to attend college. And those who do attend because of the program appear to be succeeding. The school, she said, is seeing students move on to their second year of eligibility.

The goal of Thursday’s informational session at the market was clear.

“To get the word out,” Miller said. “To encourage people to apply and go to Butte College.”