Foundation commits $70 million to CCC

    Micah Davis

    California Community Colleges received an unprecedented $70 million commitment from the Bernard Osher Foundation May 6.

    “The more we looked into the higher education community, the more we’ve convinced ourselves of the need of the community college system,” said Mary Bitterman, president of the Bernard Osher Foundation.

    Founded in 1977 and headquartered in San Francisco, the Foundation seeks to improve quality of life through support for higher education and the arts, according to their Web site.

    “What we do is provide scholarships and funding for students and colleges across the United States,” explained Bitterman.

    The Osher Initiative for CCC Students provides each of California’s 109 community colleges with $1,000 scholarships.

    In total, $100 million will support endowed annual scholarships.

    A total of $25 million will immediately fund the endowment, while the remainder will be contributed on a two-to-one match.

    The specific impact the initiative will have on Pierce College is yet to be determined. It’s still unclear just how much money for scholarships will be allotted to each community college.

    “I don’t know if I can really say what it means for us as a school,” said Pierce President Robert Garber. “But for the community colleges as a system, it hasn’t been typical to receive such a significant donation. So in that regard, the $25 million donation, along with the promise of $25 million, is wonderful.”

    The endowment offers a long-term solution to rising costs that “often hinder many students from completing their education,” according to a May 6 governor’s news release.

    “It’s a testament to Mr. Osher. He understands what we do,” said Paul Lanning, president of the Foundation for California Community Colleges. “This gives students hope they can continue in their pursuit of an education.”

    The FCCC, along with the CCC System Office and state community colleges, plan to raise a matching $50 million over the next three years.

    According to the governor’s news release, the end result should be a $100 million endowment, which will serve as a permanent fund for annual student scholarships.

    $50 million is supposed to come from FCCC fundraising and the other $50 million courtesy of the Bernard Osher Foundation.

    “I think whenever you’re talking about permanent scholarships for us, it’s a good thing,” said Josh Scott, 18.

    CCC students can expect scholarships to be available as early as next year.

    “By Fall 2009, the first students will receive scholarships…There’ll be at least 1,250 students on scholarship by fall,” Lanning said.

    The endowment, which is the largest gift ever made to a community college system, coincides with possible budget cuts for K-14 education in California.

    Schools, especially community colleges, could become even more dependent on private donations.

    “We hope that after seeing this, more philanthropists will be committed to helping community colleges,” Bitterman said.

    Garber echoed that sentiment.

    “Giving money to students is a good thing,” he said. “I’d like to see more people do it. I wish I had $25 million to give.”

    Along with the endowment, the Osher Initiative will provide $20 million to support scholarship programs at Cal State University and University of California campuses.

    The programs are reserved for community college students who have transferred to a CSU or UC campus.

    Currently, schools are beginning the fundraising process to secure the $50 million they are responsible for. As money trickles in, a more concrete method of distributing scholarship funds can be developed.

    More information on the endowment is available at www.supporttheendowment.org.