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Community colleges expand fund-raising efforts

Community colleges race to catch up in fundraising

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Print this page by Gary Robertson

When Kay Strickland signed on with Virginia Western Community College in Roanoke seven years ago to handle fundraising, she was alone except for a clerical assistant. “Now, there are six that I supervise. There are also two grants writers,” says Strickland, executive director of the Virginia Western Community College Educational Foundation.

She also established a full-time alumni coordinator, and Virginia Western now publishes a magazine two times a year in an effort to connect with a growing number of alums.

Unlike their colleagues at four-year schools, community college officials are new to the game of fundraising. However, they are racing to catch up. With enrollments soaring and state support dwindling, officials say it’s becoming apparent that the success of community colleges increasingly will hinge on their ability to create additional streams of revenue.

“It’s gone from being important to being essential,” says Robert G. Templin Jr., president of Northern Virginia Community College. He heads a sprawling six-campus institution, the largest in Virginia, which serves 78,000 students.

Statewide at Virginia’s 23 community colleges, 400,000 students are expected to take courses this school year. That’s 48,000 more than just four years ago, as Virginians flock to community colleges during a period of economic uncertainty and high unemployment.

But even as community colleges are under stress to serve more students, the state’s appropriation is declining. Since 2008, annual General Fund support has dropped by nearly $100 million, according to community college officials.

(In its 2011 session, the General Assembly gave community colleges a bit of good news, appropriating an additional $9.92 million from the general fund in fiscal year 2012 to support the goals of the Governor’s Higher Education Commission. Those goals include access, affordability, quality and an increased number of degrees. Also, an additional $5.36 million was designated for student financial aid and $3 million was appropriated for noncredit work-force training in fiscal year 2012.)

All of Virginia’s community colleges have foundations to raise private funds. And they are ramping up efforts to raise money by connecting with their graduates, whom they now regard as potential donors, or at least potential supporters who can influence public opinion when it comes to state funding.
For example, Carolyn Beam, a graduate of Blue Ridge Community College at Weyers Cave, is a donor and an advocate for community colleges.

Her husband, Gerry, president and CEO of Beam Bros. Trucking Inc. of Mount Crawford, also attended Blue Ridge, as did their two daughters.

“I was not encouraged to go to college,” says Carolyn Beam. “When I attended Blue Ridge, it gave me the confidence to keep going.”

She eventually graduated from Mary Baldwin College in Staunton with a degree in administration and management.  Beam now chairs the Blue Ridge Community College Educational Foundation and is a devoted volunteer fundraiser.

“You can hardly go anywhere in this area without talking to someone who has a connection with Blue Ridge. When I go out to talk I tell my personal story, and I know people will give if you ask them,” she says.

The Beams cite stark statistics that show why fundraising is becoming so critical to community colleges. During the past five years, Blue Ridge’s number of full-time equivalent students has risen 31 percent, to 3,218.

During the same period, the state contribution to the college’s budget dropped from 54 percent to 40 percent. Meanwhile, tuition and fees jumped from $73.30 per credit hour to $120.60 per credit hour.

As state revenue declined, more of the financial burden was placed on hard-pressed students and their families. The Beams say raising money and establishing scholarships through the college’s foundation is a way to help.

For example, regional hospitals have provided scholarships for nursing students, and a local technology company has financed scholarships for students enrolled in electrical engineering courses.

One of the largest gifts to any community college in Virginia came from a teacher, whose previous career included the presidency of various international companies.

Several years ago, Dimitri Georgiadis pledged more than $1 million to the J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College Educational Foundation to fund scholarships for at-risk youth in the Richmond area.

Georgiadis, 83, taught photography at the college for 13 years as a pro-bono member of the faculty.  He was moved by the efforts of students from disadvantaged backgrounds who were the first in their families to attend college.

“They realized they needed to get an education to get somewhere. I felt there was nothing better I could do than to help them develop their potential. When you help the student, you help the whole family,” Georgiadis says.

Tidewater Community College in Hampton Roads recently completed a $10 million fundraising campaign through its educational foundation to support academic programs and scholarships.

Deborah M. DiCroce, Tidewater’s president, says that today community colleges are challenged to do even more to diversify their funding base. “It’s the difference between good and great,” she says.

At Tidewater, diversifying the funding base includes approaching localities to provide land for expansion, generating revenue from work-force training centers and renting out conference rooms, auditoriums, classrooms and labs. DiCroce calls it “doing good while doing well.”

In 2005, Tidewater established a real estate foundation. Besides other holdings, the foundation lays claim to one of the last undeveloped waterfront properties in Hampton Roads. The approximately 500-acre site is where the Nansemond and James rivers meet.

DiCroce says the site in North Suffolk could be “life-altering” in terms of the potential new stream of revenue it could provide the 46,000-student college.  “The real estate foundation is looking at possible best uses for the property,” she says.

While student scholarships are one of the most important ways community colleges use money generated by their foundations, it’s not the only use.
Gifts and donations also aid the construction of classrooms, the purchase of equipment and the improvement of academic programs.

At Northern Virginia Community College, money from its educational foundation helped finance a program to recruit international students, whose higher tuitions provide yet another revenue stream.

Some of the biggest donors to community colleges have been people who never attended a community college.

Michael A. Smith, co-owner of Valley Proteins Inc., in Winchester, a rendering company with a dozen plants in seven states, never did. He is a graduate of Shepherd University in Shepherdstown, W.Va.

But this year Valley Proteins created a scholarship for 10 high-achieving students in their second year of community college.

The approximate value of each scholarship is $10,000, and covers tuition, books, fees, internship and travel and other opportunities.

Valley Proteins had a good year in a down economy, Smith explains, and company officials decided to pass it on.

He believes that companies should view a donation to community colleges as an investment, in their communities and in their companies.

“Most of our employees don’t need four-year degrees,” he said. “But we encourage them to go to community colleges to upgrade their skills. It helps us, and it helps them.”

Smith’s father was on the board of Lord Fairfax Community College, which has locations in Warrenton, Middletown and Luray-Page County.

Smith accepted an invitation to join the board of The Virginia Foundation for Community College Education, which seeks to assist all of Virginia’s community colleges in providing financial aid to students.  “Community colleges offer an extraordinary benefit,” Smith says, “and we need to support them.” 

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