CHICO — It was the ideal mix: people who’ve earned their degrees from Chico State, and young people still trying to decide whether to attend the institution.
The final day of the second annual Wildcat Weekend on the university’s campus offered a chance for prospective students, and their families, to see the school and community and how it might fit with their education plans.
Based on the enthusiasm most attendees demonstrated Saturday, Chico State appeared to make a favorable impression. The trick now, according to President Steve Perez, is to convert those “leads” to “sales” — enrolling these soon-to-be freshmen and transfers.
“This is a great turnout. It’s up from last year,” Perez said, pausing as he strolled through the festivities with his wife, Tanya. “We’re seeing a lot of prospective students and a lot of former Chico State people. We’re hoping alums are coming back home and that students considering enrolling here can see what we offer them.”
There’s some work ahead to get the school’s enrollment numbers back up. Chico State had an all-time high enrollment of 17,789 in 2017, but it plunged to approximately 13,880 for the fall 2023 semester — largely due to COVID’s effects on college enrollments, not just in Chico.
Perez said his informal goal is “to add 500 students next year, then 500 more, then 500 more.”
Is it the spectacularly beautiful campus? Is it the community, with many natural and cultural attractions in and around it? Whatever the attraction, Chico State officials hope prospective students come here and get the full benefits of the difficult-to-quantify “Chico experience” so many current and former students often mention.
That was one of the things the Chico State Alumni Association hoped to accomplish — welcoming former students and describing the school’s and community’s virtues to those considering Chico.
“This is really for recruitment,” said Mark Hendry, the association’s president. “We want people to see the affordability and the excellent education Chico State offers.”
Hendry said there were approximately 1,000 people signed up to attend, though he expected 1,200. His organization represents the approximately 183,000 people who have earned degrees in some fashion since the school opened for classes 134 years ago.
While most of the activities took place on campus — including a barbecue, live music, lawn games, and displays and booths from many university organizations and service providers — there were numerous people in Chico State attire visible in the adjacent downtown area. The weekend was clearly going to be a boon for merchants, restaurateurs and innkeepers.
The Prieto family of Riverside was in town to visit Rey Prieto III, a freshman. He checked out a few other universities, but liked the construction management program here — plus, an intangible the school wants others to experience.
“I came here and felt very much at home,” he said. His father, Rey Prieto Jr., and his grandparents, Rey and Debra Prieto, nodded approvingly as the student spoke. They had all finished posing for a photo under an arch of balloons in front of Kendall Hall.
That was the same sentiment for Bennett Wadley, a freshman from Ridgecrest, about 115 miles east of Bakersfield. Wadley is studying mechanical engineering and weighed enrolling at five other schools from the California State University and University of California systems.
“I liked the engineering program here, and I thought the campus was really nice,” he explained after visiting.
His father, Matt Wadley, said he and his wife “highly encouraged” their son to attend Chico State, but “we kind of left it up to him. At the end of the day, it was his decision.”
A stroll around the festival area provided students — both prospective and current — with a range of services, clubs and opportunities.
With increased awareness on student mental health these days, the university offers a place of respite and support for those who believe their mental health may need a boost.
Kealy Morrissey, a fourth-year student from Dublin, held a large sign urging people to check out The Well, a place inside the Bell Memorial Union designed to provide relaxation and counseling for students feeling the effects of school-related stress.
“The Well is a place for student wellness,” Morrissey explained. “It’s a place for students to go to chill out. It offers yoga, massages, hydro massages, and a nap room if people (for example) have 30 extra minutes and could use a nap.”
She also described the “opportunity for students to talk to counselors — to talk and relax — if they need to balance the work/life/school” obligations.
“It’s really a great resource,” Morrissey said.
Nearby, Ariella Hecker of Torrance held a sign to encourage folks to visit the WREC — the Wildcat Recreation Center — near the western edge of the campus. It has a weight room, like most athletic clubs, but Hecker said there’s also group exercise classes, a student swimming pool and an indoor track.
“There’s an array of classes there,” she said, adding that the place provides employment for Chico State students as well. Best of all, membership is free for students and faculty.
One of the most important services available at the tables on site was University Housing, and its assistance for students in finding living quarters within a mile and a half of campus.
University Housing official Megan Kurtz pointed to a service with which the university contracts called College Pads. It serves as a “matchmaker” between landlords and college students who are prospective residents — providing prices, apartment or house details such as the number of bedrooms and the square footage, and even a way for individuals to find roommates.
Unlike residential units in super-expensive areas such as Berkeley and other Bay Area college towns, Kurtz said Chico students appreciate being able to have more living space.
“Students in Chico like having one person per bedroom,” Kurtz said. “In Berkeley, you might have four people living in a one-bedroom place.”