Continuing a Tradition of Excellence
“Daring fired the imagination of those who championed the normal school in 1887. It drove those who imagined our role as the university of the North State when the CSU was founded in 1960. And it must accompany us forward.” —President Paul J. Zingg
It all began with a gift—or a series of gifts.
In the years after the Civil War, Northern California residents were clamoring for a normal school, especially after the only teacher-training college in the state, in San Jose, burned down in 1880.
Competition was raging among Redding, Red Bluff, and Chico to locate a teacher's college in their respective communities. John Bidwell, then Chico's leading citizen, stepped up and donated eight acres of his cherry orchard as a site for the school. But he did more than that. He coupled his gift with a message equally important to today's North State residents. “Every citizen,” he said to Chico residents, “must consider it his duty to do everything he can for the cause of education and his community.”
Inspired by his example of giving, Bidwell's fellow citizens anteed up $10,000 (a quarter of a million dollars in today's currency value) to augment the state legislature's appropriation for the school. These developments proved decisive in gaining the unanimous recommendation of the committee charged with making the selection to locate the new school in Chico. And thus Northern Branch State Normal School of California was established in 1887. The school opened with 90 students and five faculty members to train and educate these future teachers.
As the University has grown, it has experienced three name changes and a dramatic expansion of mission and curriculum. In 1921, the normal school became Chico State Teachers College. In 1935, the name was shortened to Chico State College, and then in 1972, the school officially became California State University, Chico.
It is the second oldest CSU campus and one of the West's top-ranked public comprehensive universities, with more than 15,000 students and 100 majors and options. Chico State has been a leader in education for generations. It was the first university in the world to offer graduate degrees via satellite and has the oldest computer science department in the CSU system. Its Northeastern California Partnership for Special Education was founded in 1988, the first of its kind in the state. And Chico was the first CSU campus to register a “green” building project.
CSU, Chico's legacy reaches far beyond the boundaries of the city. “As one of California's first public universities, Chico State has had the privilege to serve tens of thousands of students in the North State, across California, and throughout the world," said Paul Zingg. “The legacy of Bidwell's challenge and those initial gifts shape our identity and drive our future. For the example of giving fosters a habit of giving and that underscores our goal not only to ensure that our students reap great personal benefits from their time with us, but that they also contribute to the larger public good.”
Our alums and friends also give back to the University, in gratitude for the gifts they received while here. Even though its enrollment ranks 13th among the campuses of the CSU, the University ranks in the top five for the total number of gifts and top three for the total number of alumni donors. These alumni and friends also give back to their communities, notes Zingg, making “important contributions to growing our economy, fostering a cleaner environment, enabling a healthier population, building stronger local and regional communities, supporting social justice, and engaging in so many other endeavors that strengthen both our social fabric and our democracy.
“This is the essence of giving forward, and it binds our work as much as it motivates our donors.”