Junior colleges saved by $70 million donation
May 15, 2008 4:07 PM
The California Community College system announced its receipt of a $70 million donation from the San Francisco-based Bernard Osher Foundation on May 7. The largest gift ever given to the public, two-year higher education institution will fund scholarships for students in the CCC system.
“We are overjoyed about this historic and unprecedented gift to the California Community Colleges,” said CCC Chancellor Diane Woodruff at a press conference. “The Osher scholarships will provide much-needed financial support to many of our students who may not otherwise be able to complete their studies.”
The gift, called the Osher Initiative, includes two separate monetary commitments. The first $50 million will establish annual private scholarships of $1,000. The community college system will get $25 million immediately to fund an endowment managed by the Foundation for California Community Colleges. The remaining $25 million will be contributed to the FCCC on a two-to-one match. The FCCC, CCC System Office and the state’s community colleges will join to raise a matching $50 million over a three-year period, according to the CCC System Office Web site. The resulting $100 million endowment will serve as a permanent fund for annual student scholarships.
“We have been long-time supporters of wonderful institutions like SF State and other higher education institutions,” said Mary Bitterman, president of the Bernard Osher Foundation. “But in the last number of years, we have really seen that the 2.6 million students seeking education at community colleges need support. We really feel that this institution is worthy of philanthropy.”
The donation will be especially helpful at a time of severe budget deficits estimated at $20 billion. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has proposed cuts of about $483 million from the 109-campus, 2.6 million-student system, which has an annual operating budget of $6.7 billion.
The Osher Initiative will be used strictly for scholarships to low-income students and cannot be applied to the budget. According to the CCC System Office, the CCC enrolls the state’s lowest-income students. Full-time students have an annual income of $16,223 and 25 percent of those students earn less than $5,544 per year.
“I am pleased to announce this historic gift by the Bernard Osher Foundation that will help thousands of our state’s community college students succeed each year,” Schwarzenegger said at a press conference on May 7. “I know firsthand the incredible value of community colleges from my time at Santa Monica College. They serve a vital role in preparing our workforce, and this gift will provide innumerable benefits to our state’s economy and diverse communities.”
The Osher Initiative will also provide an additional $20 million in scholarships specifically for students transferring to the California State University and University of California systems.
A total of $1 million per year will go to 11 CSU campuses while four of them—Fullerton, Northridge, San Diego and San Jose—will receive $1.25 million due to the large number of community college transfer students enrolled at these campuses, according to the CSU Web site.
Community colleges serve as a gateway to California’s four-year universities. Nearly half the students enrolled at SF State were transfer students. Approximately 60 percent of CSU students transfer from a state community college, and the endowment will provide $2,500 individual scholarships for hundreds of students to be used for tuition, books or living expenses.
Bitterman estimated 1,250 students will receive Osher scholarships by fall 2009. If the FCCC achieves its goal of matching two-to-one donations as planned, 5,000 students will receive scholarships by 2011, Bitterman said.
Community colleges are also the leading provider of job training and career technical education. About 80 percent of California’s firefighters, law enforcement officers and emergency medical technicians are credentialed at community colleges, and 70 percent of nurses in the state received part of their education from community colleges.
“These funds are tremendously valuable to us,” said CSU public affairs specialist Teresa Ruiz. “The scholarships will really help those who have shown their commitment to education at community colleges succeed at CSU.”
Bitterman said community colleges are often overlooked when donations are given. Most people donate to their alma mater or private four-year universities.
“Our hope is our gift will put community colleges into bolder relief,” she said. “We hope it will show more people that the most diverse and least advantaged group of students in the state is important to help succeed.”
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