The search for private funding

In the wake of proposed sweeping cuts in state education funding, California community colleges are turning to private sources to supplement their stagnating, sometimes even shrinking, operating budgets.

“Like California’s four-year public universities, our community colleges have realized they can no longer solely rely on state funding or bond measures for financial support,” said Dr. Paul Lanning, president of the Foundation for California Community Colleges, in an e-mail interview.

“Now more than ever, community colleges are realizing the need to tap into the rising tide of philanthropic support to higher education,” Lanning said.

Pierce College pursues this kind of assistance through the Foundation for Pierce College, a 501c3 nonprofit organization.

As such, it contributes funding to the college, rather than costing it money.

The FPC, almost as old as Pierce itself, has a 14-member board of judges, professionals and other volunteers who engage in a wide range of activities to support the students, faculty, administration and institutions of Pierce, according to FPC President Dennis Washburn.

But securing this private funding can be complex, and even once you have the funds, it’s not as simple as doling it out to the areas of need, according to Pierce President Robert Garber.

“It’s very difficult to go after grants that actually pay you to do what you need to do or what you want to do,” Garber said. “If somebody gave us a grant to build a giant mound of peat moss, you could get the money, but what does it have to do with education?”

Even large sums of donated money are not best utilized by simply spending it where it’s needed most.

It serves the schools better to exercise discretion in the handling of this type of donation, according to Garber.

“We had (more than) $5 million that was part of a lease arrangement with the MTA for the Orange Line station. If we had spent the capital, it would be gone. Instead, that $5 million generates about $350,000 a year in interest revenue,” he said.

“We decided as a college to take that interest revenue and hire two additional custodians and two groundskeepers, because I feel very strongly that a big part of this campus is to maintain it.”

At Pierce, the FPC secures financial support through a variety of private funding options.

“You can bequest money, establish a planned giving program and make annual payments, or write us into your will and trust,” Washburn said. “You can give stock donations and insurance policy benefits as well.”

Gifts can also be made in the form of real estate, cars and businesses, according to Washburn.

The FPC established Pierce’s Farm Store and the Halloween Harvest Festival.

They worked with the S. Mark Taper Foundation to develop the Botanical Gardens, as well as Ellen Dow, to install the new courtyard and landscaping near the Eugene Francis Dow Arena Theater.

They provided the Roundup with a van for weekly newspaper delivery around campus. Also, they provide 20 to 30 vehicles per year for automotive technology students to work on.

“Everything we do is meant to supplement what the college can’t afford to do,” Washburn said.

The FPC is currently trying to launch a payroll deduction program on campus, according to Washburn.

“Garber already contributes through payroll deduction, and each year he awards those funds to an outstanding student leader,” Washburn said.

Since they represent the statewide community college system as a whole, the FCCC is able to facilitate partnerships with various organizations and foundations to support critical workforce training and youth education programs in schools across California, according to Lanning.

“In total, the (FCCC) has secured nearly $150 million in grant funding over the past 10 years in the form of contracts, grants and gifts,” he said. “In the coming months, we’re going to take it one step further by launching a statewide endowed scholarship campaign that will raise philanthropic dollars for student scholarships.”

“The total campaign goal is expected to be $100 million and all proceeds from the endowment will go directly to student scholarships.”

Although most of California’s 109 community colleges are looking into private funding options, the total combined endowment is $266 million.

Though that figure is large, it goes to support the education of 2.6 million students, according to Lanning.

The FCCC is developing a program by which California’s community colleges can reach out to their alumni. By doing this, they will enable local colleges to communicate with and engage their alumni without having to invest resources into their own systems, according to Lanning.

Even so, securing private funding can be a daunting task, according to Garber.

“It’s difficult because, in terms of community colleges in relation to…very rich universities, they really seem to have an edge on our ability and if we’re competing for the same donated dollars, it’s very hard to do,” Garber said. “But we do have strategies, and we’re gearing them up through the Foundation (for Pierce College).”


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