Dive Brief: 

  • California Community Colleges announced Tuesday it is receiving a $100 million gift, the largest in the 116-school system’s history. 

  • The donation, from the Jay Pritzker Foundation, will go toward emergency aid and scholarships for students close to completing a credential or transferring to a four-year college. It will be spread over 20 years. 

  • The gift is the largest yet to the community college sector, which is seeing increased interest from donors during the pandemic. 

Dive Insight: 

The $100 million pledge will initially support grants for 34 community colleges across the three regions in California that have the lowest shares of adults with a degree. A recent report outlining the system’s strategic plan found its schools weren’t reaching students in these areas, which are the Central Valley, the Inland Empire and the Far North regions. 

Students can receive scholarships of up to $18,500 each year to cover their estimated nontuition costs, including textbooks, transportation, housing, childcare and food. In the first year, colleges can spend the funds entirely on emergency financial aid to help blunt the pandemic’s impact on students.

The crisis is hitting community colleges and their students hard. Enrollment is down 9.4% year-over-year at public, two-year schools, according to a recent report from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. The sector’s first-time students dropped even further — by 22.7%. That’s compared to decreases of 4% and 16.1%, respectively, for the sector overall.

California’s two year-schools are no exception. During a September meeting with the board of governors, Chancellor Eloy Ortiz Oakley estimated the system was seeing a 5% to 7% enrollment decline, EdSource reported. 

Several factors are at play, officials said, including wildfires forcing students to evacuate their homes and pandemic-related personal hardships. Some students lack the tools or don’t like to learn virtually. 

Donors are signaling interest in providing relief to the sector. The Borough of Manhattan Community College, in New York, recently raised $430,000 during a virtual fundraiser for emergency aid. And Harford Community College, in Maryland, received $1 million this summer to create an endowment for nursing scholarships. 

Several community colleges say they’ve broken institutional fundraising records this year, Inside Higher Ed reported. Kestrel Linder, co-founder and CEO of GiveCampus, an online donation platform for colleges, told the publication that its community college clients have raised 47% more in the first nine months of this year than they did during all of last year.

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