10 Ways to Support Excellence in Community CollegesBy: Tony Mayer
The sky is the limit for partnerships between donors and community colleges. Yet many major foundations and companies that collectively lavish billions in gifts on four-year schools never even consider two-year counterparts. Community colleges lack the development budgets, donor outreach, alumni networks, sports leagues, fraternities and sororities, and reunion groups that four-year colleges use to build sentimental support.
As a result,there are many ways to invest in community colleges. Everyone has at least one in their backyard that is deserving of your consideration and support. The bi-annual Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence provides a data point on those that are carrying out their work with distinction, as well as those that show most improvement. One hundred fifty are deemed eligible in each cycle, and from this list 10 finalists are chosen. Employment and earnings outcomes are considered for the finalists and the ultimate winner.
Here are specific investment ideas in community colleges for donors:
1. Invest in local community college foundations
This is an excellent way to support the overall community college. Each individual foundation can advise on areas of greatest need.
2. Provide infrastructure support or invest in equipment
Some community colleges will need infrastructure support for a new workshop or industry-standard machines. Moreover, in some of the more expensive, cutting-edge fields such as biotechnology, regular investments are necessary to keep equipment and training up to date.
"We discovered, early on, that community colleges—which educate half of all low-income and minority students—are nimble engines of not just economic development, but also educational entrepreneurship."
—Kathleen deLaski, Education Design Lab
3. Fund scholarships
Another option is to fund scholarships to support those with an economic need. If your giving is oriented around a particular subpopulation—such as veterans, students with STEM talents, or ex- prisoners—consider endowing a scholarship at a community college with solid Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs, aimed at that specific population.
4. Fund a technical curriculum
A strong opportunity is to fund the creation and implementation of a CTE curriculum at a community college or technical school. Donors such as Karen Buchwald Wright and the Ariel Corporation have taken this approach. Wright has poured millions into area community colleges, technical schools, and trades-oriented public colleges, with the aim of helping people acquire the skills they need to become valued employees. Working through schools like Central Ohio Technical College, Stark State, Zane State, and the Knox County Career Center, Wright funded the development of a course that workers can take to build mid-level skills that are in short supply today.
5. Support essential wraparound services
An alternative means of support is through wraparound services—for childcare, food, healthcare and mental health services, and transportation— that help students remain in school and successfully complete their credentials. Additional funds are needed as several states are asking to expand the regional initiatives statewide.
6. Support faculty positions
Our 2016 guidebook, Learning to Be Useful, suggested that “some philanthropists may want to help recruit crucial faculty to career-training tracks, to fund career counselors who link students to employers, or to create a job-mapping system that will allow a college to show adult workers how upgrading their skills can lead them to better positions.”
7. Support the Community College Growth Engine Fund
Consider the Community College Growth Engine Fund, a catalytic investment in community colleges to demonstrate their potential position as drivers of innovation between education and employment.
The Fund has raised $2.5 million in commitments so far to support its work over the next two years. Six forward-leaning community colleges will be selected to receive pathway design services, national network facilitation, and technical support in an accelerated learning community to incentivize and unlock their potential to be leading regional drivers of economic growth. Each community college will bring two employees and a local high school district to further develop three micro-pathways and credentials.
8. Make investments to help students graduate
An important test of an effective community college is ensuring that learners actually leave with a degree or useful certification. Completion rates at many associate degree programs hover around 30%, leaving much room for improvement. But donors are stepping up. For example, the Richard M. Fairbanks Foundation recently awarded nearly $1.1 million over two years to fund Ivy Tech Community College’s career coaching and employer connections initiative.
9. Spread the word about outstanding community colleges
Publicizing outstanding career training by a community college can be important in getting other donors over a key hurdle: the tendency of many philanthropists to target only prominent four-year colleges with their grantmaking. Too many donors support only their alma maters and flagship universities, overlooking the immense value that a career-savvy community college can bring to a region. There may be no better instrument available across America today than community colleges when it comes to improving economic mobility—and donors have a key role to play.
10. Launch a foundation at your local community college
Locate a community college in your area that is effective at career education. If the institution doesn’t already have a foundation, provide the seed money for starting one. Such foundations are often important in launching new job-linking ventures.
Community colleges are a critical economic engine that will help to fuel the nation’s recovery from the economic disruption. They offer a tremendous return on investment, serve many adult learners who come from low- to moderate-income backgrounds, and provide credentials and certifications that can move an individual from poverty to economic self- sufficiency.With growing partnerships with employers and industry, they provide work-based learning opportunities that enhance both the likelihood of meaningful employment and increased wages. They have had a direct impact in many communities across the U.S.There are many ways in which philanthropy can support these drivers of personal success, community development, and poverty alleviation. An investment in our community colleges supports education, employment, and the economy.