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Community Colleges: An Investment Worth Making

By Dawn Dyer Magretta, CFRE

The Jay Pritzker Foundation recently pledged $100 million to the Foundation for California Community Colleges (FCCC). This investment generates over 20 years of scholarships and emergency financial aid to 34 community colleges in three regions. It is estimated to support 5,405 students annually.  

This represents the largest gift ever to a community college system.

From individuals to entire communities – community colleges make an impact. Whether a small business owner taking certificate classes or a third-grader attending a summer camp, your local community college contributes to a healthy, thriving community.

Yet, statistics show that community colleges only receive a fraction of funds raised for higher education nationally. So, why aren’t we investing more where donor-dollars impact more individuals?   

Today’s typical “college student” is not just a young adult attending a university. Some are looking to save money, and the cost of community college tuition is significantly lower than that of four-year colleges. Others are working and going to school. Some are single parents, and some are adult workers who are upskilling or changing careers. But all are seeking better employment for their future.

Investing in Futures

Working in the community college environment for over ten years has opened my eyes to the great impact philanthropy has on students’ lives. For example, where can a $500 scholarship cover a three-credit class, plus books? Or $2,500 scholarship provide tuition funding for 20 credits? These community college investments are essential.  

Community colleges often serve students that are at-risk or economically challenged. Philanthropy provides for the creation of student-support programs like a Student Emergency Needs Fund. The fund awards one-time grants of up to $500 for emergencies like car repairs, medical bills, or other life-challenging situations. These funds can make the difference between staying in school or dropping out. At Schoolcraft, 71% of the 64 students that received this grant funding the year it was established graduated or transferred to a four-year university.

Investing During Turbulent Times

When the recent pandemic started, the College had to make quick adjustments and move to online classes. Philanthropy played a crucial role in creating a laptop loan program and remote WiFi hot-spots for students that didn’t have access to computers or the internet. The Schoolcraft Foundation was also able to provide lab kits for students who transitioned from in-class chemistry labs to online labs.  

Many students and their families are struggling to make ends meet. Some have lost their jobs, and a $250 Distance Learning Scholarship was what they needed to take spring class and keep learning. Nearly 800 students were helped with this one-time scholarship.  

Donor Investment in Community Colleges is Worth It!

Education is the key to a community’s economic viability. Statistics show that post-high school education leads to higher-paying jobs that move people to independence and sustainable lifestyles. Community colleges are critical resources to educational attainment and career pathways.  

A recent article by Victoria Yuen states, “community colleges receive $8,800 less in education revenue per student enrolled than four-year institutions, according to a new analysis from the Center for American Progress. That translates into a total gap of $78 billion between the two sectors. To put it another way, the per-student revenue gap between community colleges and four-year institutions is roughly the same size as the typical annual revenue taken in by a community college—about $8,800.” 

In Michigan, community colleges like Schoolcraft are supported by local property taxes and tuition. This revenue provides the basic services of what a community college should be doing – philanthropy supports what we could be doing.  


Scutari, Mike (2 Nov 2020), “After a Historic Gift, Will More Donors Finally Give Community Colleges a Second Look?, Inside Philanthropy, https://www.insidephilanthropy.com/home/2020/10/31/the-jay-pritzker-foundation-community-colleges

Scutari, Mike (23 Oct 2020), “Promise and Peril:  How Community Colleges Can Build Endowments During the Pandemic, Inside Philanthropy, https://www.insidephilanthropy.com/home/2020/7/31/promise-and-peril-how-community-colleges-can-build-endowments-during-the-pandemic

Valbrun, Marjorie, (8 Feb 209), “The Big Gift You Haven’t Heard About,”  Inside Higher Ed, https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2019/02/08/large-donation-small-community-college-changes-outlook-fund-raising-two-year

Yuen, Victoria (7 October 2020), “The $78 Billion Community College Funding Shortfall,”  Center for American Progress,  https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/education-postsecondary/reports/2020/10/07/491242/78-billion-community-college-funding-shortfall/

Collegecalc.org: https://www.collegecalc.org/

Colleges:  https://www.collegecalc.org/colleges/michigan/schoolcraft-college/

Community Colleges:  https://www.communitycollegereview.com/tuition-stats/michigan