Community College of Vermont focuses on building an endowment

  • Hannah Young, 19, of Thetford, helps Bruce Scott Jr., of West Lebanon, with a paper at Community College of Vermont in Wilder, Vt., Thursday, Dec. 12, 2019. Young is a 2018 graduate of Thetford Academy and plans to attend Northern Vermont University in Lyndon, Vt., to study English and writing after completing four semesters in liberal studies at CCV. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley New photographs — James M. Patterson

  • Hannah Young, 19, of Thetford, erases her posted tutoring hours as her last day of work for the semester nears its end at Community College of Vermont in Wilder, Vt., Thursday, Dec. 12, 2019. Young tutored writing for seven hours a week in addition to her five classes this semester. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Hannah Young, 19, of Thetford, works with fellow student Bruce Scott Jr., of West Lebanon, on a works-cited page for a paper during her work-study job as a writing tutor at Community College of Vermont in Wilder, Vt., Thursday, Dec. 12, 2019. Young also receives a scholarship available through the CCV endowment. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News — James M. Patterson

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 12/16/2019 6:38:32 PM
Modified: 12/19/2019 11:18:06 AM

Community colleges often bill themselves as stepping stones to larger institutions and ambitions. That strategy may work well to get students in the door, but when it comes to fundraising, there’s a problem: Graduates tend to donate to the schools that handed them a degree, which is often the four-year colleges where they continued their educations.

As a result, community colleges lack the endowments, which provide investment income to support their programs, that many four-year colleges and universities have amassed.

In recent years, however, Community College of Vermont has gotten in on the game. The school, which serves about 5,000 students per semester at 12 centers around Vermont, including its Upper Valley location in Wilder, has built up its endowment to about $2.2 million over the past 20 years.

Compared with Dartmouth College, which boasts an endowment of $5.7 billion, that’s pocket change. The University of Vermont has an endowment of $566 million. But CCV administrators say the endowments, which go primarily toward student scholarships, have a big impact.

“Small amounts of money can make a huge difference to students,” CCV President Joyce Judy said in a telephone interview earlier this month.

Endowments are donated funds that are often earmarked for specific purposes. Institutions invest the funds and spend the proceeds, usually according to a specified formula designed to continue growing the principal.

Since community colleges lack the pricey amenities of many four-year schools — few have fancy sports stadiums and many don’t even have dormitories — donations can directly benefit students, Judy said. “We really are laser-focused on scholarships for our students,” she said.

CCV’s Endowment for Student Success, its first and by far its largest endowment fund, was established 20 years ago by a $25,000 gift from former Vermont State College trustee Jan Gilette.

“We sort of played around in the development arena and didn’t really get serious about it for a while,” Judy said. “We really have gotten much more serious about it in the last 10 years.”

That fund now contains about $1.1 million and will provide $50,000 in scholarships in 2020. As the college celebrates its 50th anniversary this year, officials are aiming to further beef up the fund.

“We’re using this as an opportunity to approach businesses and organizations who we’ve helped,” Judy said. “When we touch 10,000 Vermonters a year, it’s hard to find places that don’t have some connection to CCV. ... Our challenge is making sure we’re out in the community talking about it.”

That broad approach is important. At four-year colleges, alumni giving accounts for a sizable chunk of endowment funds. At community colleges, that’s not the case.

“Alums tend to give to the school where they have earned their final degree, and we tend to be at the front end of people’s education,” Judy said.

What’s more, community colleges tend to serve populations of lesser means, who have less money to give.

Nationally, community colleges receive only 1.5 percent of total private donations in higher education, even though they serve approximately 50 percent of all students pursuing post-secondary degrees. That’s according to a recent editorial by Dan Smith, president and CEO of the Middlebury-based Vermont Community Foundation, one of CCV’s biggest donors. He argues that community colleges like CCV offer the most promising mechanisms for closing the opportunity gap by granting disadvantaged populations access to higher education and, in turn, viable careers.

The McLure Foundation, also based in Middlebury and a supporter of the Vermont Community Foundation, has been putting its full weight behind that notion for the past 11 years. After supporting a spectrum of charitable causes for the first 15 years of its existence, the McLure Foundation refocused its mission in 2008 and now exclusively supports causes that level the playing field in post-secondary education.

“We believe that access to education after high school is the closest thing we have to a silver bullet,” Carolyn Weir, executive director of the McLure Foundation, said in a telephone interview last week.

The need is especially urgent in Vermont, which ranks last in the nation in state support for higher education, Weir said. With only 18 percent of its operating budget coming from state funds, CCV charges the highest tuition of any community college system in the country: $271 per credit for in-state students.

Not that other community colleges are flush with cash. After peaking in 2010, enrollment at community colleges has been on a downward trajectory that’s projected to continue, according to a 2016 research brief by the College Board. A declining population in the 18-34 age group is partly to blame. The healthy economy has also contributed to decreasing enrollment; the number of community college students tends to rise when unemployment goes up.

Meanwhile, the vast majority of states have significantly decreased spending on higher education, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. In New Hampshire, state spending decreased by 26% from 2008 to 2017. Though the Legislature approved a 17% increase in November, it wasn’t enough to prevent layoffs at NHTI, one of seven colleges and five academic centers in the Community College System of New Hampshire.

Facing such realities, officials at CCSNH are also looking for ways to capture a larger sliver of the charitable giving pie.

“Community colleges across the country are realizing that they have an opportunity to appeal to either alumni or the community to gain support, which hasn’t historically been a part of the community college culture,” said Tim Allison, chief advancement officer and executive director for the CCSNH Foundation, which holds about $3 million in endowed funds.

Allison’s position was added last year in an effort to expand the foundation’s outreach in the communities its colleges serve. He’s been working with River Valley Community College, which is based in Claremont and has learning centers in Lebanon and Keene, to launch an annual appeal, beginning in 2020. Like CCV, River Valley hopes to build relationships with businesses and organizations that have benefited from the training it offers.

“I think (the community colleges) deliver a lot of positive impact to employers,” Allison said in a telephone interview last week.

The concept of charitable giving seems to be catching on at community colleges around the country. Overall, private funds donated to higher education increased by about 7% from 2017 to 2018, Marc Westenburg, director of the Center for Community College Advancement in Washington, D.C., said in a telephone interview. Community colleges saw an 11% increase during that time. And in the last 20 years, adjusted for inflation, endowments at two-year colleges in the United States experienced an average increase of 76%, according to the Washington-based Council for Advancement and Support of Education. 

“As state funding for a lot of community colleges has decreased … they’ve had to recognize that they need to diversify their revenue streams,” Westenburg said.

A portion of private funds comes from organizations in the community who recognize their reliance on community college programs, Westenburg said. But he’s also seen an uptick in alumni giving. Sometimes those numbers are hard to capture because not everyone who attends community college is counted in the definition of alumni, he said.

Hannah Young is one of the students using CCV as a stepping stone. An aspiring writer and full-time student in the liberal arts program at CCV’s Upper Valley center, she received scholarship gifts totaling $2,000 from the Endowment for Student Success this year. That money, along with other scholarships, her part-time tutoring job in the learning center and her ability to commute from her home in Thetford, have allowed her to save money toward tuition at a four-year college. Next year, she’ll study English at Northern Vermont University in Lyndon.

“Financial aid and scholarships in general have been a huge help,” Young said while preparing for a tutoring session last week. “If I had to contribute more to tuition I probably couldn’t do it in this time frame. … I’m pretty lucky.”

Sarah Earl e can be reached at searle@ vnews.com or 603-727-3268.

Correction

Adjusted for inflation, endowments at two-year colleges in the United States experienced an average increase of 76% from 1998 to 2018, according to the Washington-based Council for Advancement and Support of Education. An earlier version of this story incorrectly described changes to community college finances around the country in that time period.

 




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