How Community Colleges Can Help Themselves

The country's community colleges are at great risk of becoming "separate but unequal institutions in the higher-education landscape," according to a report issued recently by the Century Foundation. This is hardly news to those of us in the world of community colleges. And yet we—particularly those of us with fund-raising responsibilities—could be doing so much more than we are to help close the parity gap and help our own institutions thrive.

Nearly one-half of students in higher education attend community colleges, representing a diverse ensemble who will eventually be among the leaders in such critical fields as science, engineering, education, and health care. Historically modeled as a training ground for students to compete for local jobs, these colleges are now gateways to a world of wider opportunity, offering programs to prepare students for career success and lifelong learning, and smoothing pathways to four-year universities.

But this transformation is a struggle that will not be won without an increase in philanthropy for education, now dominated by four-year institutions. For each dollar given to a four-year college, only a cent or two goes to support community colleges. The Century Foundation's study found that the average benefit from private and group donations, grants, investment returns, endowment income, and the like per full-time student to private research institutions was $46,342, compared with $372 for community colleges.

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