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Working with Private Foundations to Fund Reform

By Sonya Stinson

As colleges invest in collaborative support structures, foundations emerge as viable partners in the community college reform movement.

By now, most community college administrators know reform isn’t something they can do on their own.

As the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) recommends in Reclaiming the American Dream: Community Colleges and the Nation’s Future, colleges need to make strategic investments. That means partnering with businesses, local school districts and private foundations to offset the rising costs of higher education and sharing the responsibility of preparing students for a new generation of life and work.

Industry partnerships have received the lion’s share of attention. Agreements with local school districts and neighboring colleges also get a lot of play on this blog and in other news outlets. But private foundations are also doing their part.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is one that most people know about. Gates uses a portion of its massive $40 billion endowment to support higher education, including the foundation’s College-Ready Education and Postsecondary Success tracts.

But Gates isn’t the only private foundation invested in community college reform. Here are four examples of foundations doing work that is worthy of the spotlight.

Jack Kent Cooke Foundation

The Jack Kent Cooke Foundation sponsors the largest U.S. private scholarship for community college transfer students.

Besides the well-known Undergraduate Transfer Scholarship, another established program of the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation is the Community College Transfer Initiative, which provides for targeted support for community college students looking to transfer to the nation’s most selective colleges and universities. The foundation also sponsors the award-winning Pathways to the Baccalaureate program at Northern Virginia Community College, which provides college counseling and 60 scholarships to more than 500 students each year.

GE Foundation

The GE Foundation focuses the majority of its resources on programs to close the skills gap. In October, the foundation awarded $1.5 million to Delgado Community College, in New Orleans, for a training program in advanced manufacturing and water management. Participants in the program can become certified water-infrastructure workers for the Sewerage and Water Board of New Orleans. The grant is expected to create hundreds of jobs over three years.

Overall, the foundation’s 10 scholarship programs have awarded more than $27.5 million to date.

Kresge Foundation

Kresge Foundation grants support dedicated Student Success Centers at community colleges in seven states, including those funded this year in California, Connecticut and New Jersey. Kresge aims its overall education initiative at promoting access to college for low-income, first-generation and underrepresented students.

In October, the foundation awarded a three-year, $450,000 grant, shared among three Indiana University campuses, that will help Ivy Tech Community College students transfer successfully into bachelor’s degree programs. Participating Ivy Tech students who maintain good academic standing and meet other program requirements will receive guaranteed admission to IU Northwest, IU South Bend or IU Kokomo, along with access to scholarships, academic advice and counseling to minimize loan debt.

Lumina Foundation

The Lumina Foundation funded AACC’s Plus 50 Completion Strategy, part of a four-year grant program that concluded in September. More than 20,000 students participated in the program, with nearly 9,000 completing a credential.

One of the foundation’s latest initiatives is the Ideation Challenge, which seeks solutions that tackle issues of college affordability. With prizes totaling $10,000 — with at least one award no smaller than $5,000 — the competition aims to identify “a model for a new student financial support system” that emphasizes affordability, cost transparency and incentives to boost completion.

These are, of course, just a few of the foundation-sponsored programs that support community colleges. Looking for more ideas for how your college can work with public and private organizations to improve the quality of education and workforce training on campus? Download AACC’s Empowering Community Colleges to Build the Nation’s Future: An Implementation Guide.

Sonya Stinson

is a contributor to the 21st-Century Center.

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