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Fast Track to Fund-Raising

After years of lackluster efforts, educators are finding ways to lure community money into California's community colleges.

July 28, 1999|JILL LEOVY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The University of California raises three-quarters of a billion dollars each year through charitable contributions; California State University raises $237 million.

But California's 107 community colleges have lagged behind, often sitting out the lucrative college fund-raising game altogether.

Now higher education's minor leagues are learning to raise money like the majors. Community colleges are throwing wine-tasting parties, telethons and dinner dances, hiring United Way charity pros and compiling alumni lists--all in the name of courting the rich and powerful.

"There is definitely increased interest" in fund-raising, said Don Rickner, executive director of the Network of California Community College Foundations. "It's taken community colleges some time to join the trend."

Community colleges are thought to have the odds stacked against them when it comes to fund-raising:

Relatively new institutions, they lack the established bequest traditions of older schools. Vast and fluid student bodies are difficult to corral into alumni groups. And the colleges can't trade on prestige as more elite institutions do.

Yet increasingly, community colleges are seeking charitable donations for scholarships and computers--even for such bread-and-butter expenses as renovation of buildings.

Just a few years ago, in the early 1990s, there were only about half a dozen strong community college foundations statewide, Rickner said. Now there are 25 or so.

"At private colleges and universities, the first thing you ask a new [candidate for] president is, 'What is your fund-raising experience?' " said Larry Toy, president of the Foundation for California Community Colleges. "In the public sector, that has not always been true. But it's beginning to happen in community colleges."

The trend got another boost recently when Marshall Drummond, the new chancellor of the giant Los Angeles Community College District, announced that the district is reviving its long-dormant foundation.

The district's nine colleges also have foundations, although over the years, they have drawn in relatively small amounts of money. Drummond says he favors a districtwide foundation that would complement local college foundations by building ties with the wealthy downtown business community.

"I want to start an effort at the district level to aim higher at major corporations that we aren't now doing gift-seeking from," Drummond said. "There are a number of large organizations and foundations that have not been tapped."

One use of money raised might be "booster grants" for students--scholarships of $1,000 to $2,000 aimed at preventing students from dropping out, he said.

"Often our students are single parents who work part-time but need a bus pass or day care," Drummond said. "They drop out, or they take six years to complete a program they could do in three years if they had just a little extra help."

Money might also be used for faculty grants and training, especially aimed at keeping classroom content on pace with changing technology, he said.

It's no mystery why community colleges are suddenly making fund-raising a priority.

Subject to the ebb and flow of state budgets, many community colleges are in almost perpetual financial precariousness. They receive fewer tax dollars per student than the state universities, fewer even than the kindergarten-through-12th-grade schools.

But the colleges have a long way to go before their fund-raising efforts match those of universities.

Statewide, the most recent figures available show that community colleges have about $60 million in foundation funds, a number that has probably grown in the last year or two, Rickner said.

That money is spread across an enormous system with 1.2 million students, many times the size of both the University of California and California State University. It translates to less than $100 per student.

By contrast, the University of California raises a staggering $750 million per year, more than $4,000 per student.

Likewise, California State University is reaping the benefits of an effort begun in 1993, when the trustees challenged campus presidents to bring in contributions totaling 10% of state appropriations, said Douglas Patino, Cal State vice chancellor for university advancement.

A central office was created, and campuses dramatically shifted resources to vastly expand the size of their fund-raising operations. "Fund-raising is labor intensive," Patino said.

Cal State's reward has been a more than twofold increase in contributions, from $90 million in 1990 to $237 million last year--well past the 10% goal.

In the past, Rickner said, some community colleges have been reluctant to emulate the Cal State model by committing scarce funds to a risky enterprise that might take years to show results.

Instead they have created one or two fund-raising positions, or hired temporary consultants, expecting that in a year or two the investment would pay for itself. Predictably, he said, such efforts usually failed.

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