The California Community Colleges announced Tuesday that it has received the largest ever gift to such institutions in the nation — $100 million — to help more students complete degrees, transfer to universities and support their basic living expenses.
The gift, from an anonymous donor to the Jay Pritzker Foundation, is described by college officials as a recognition of the role community colleges play in educating Californians and preparing them for the workforce. It also addresses the shortcomings of a system that is struggling in many regions to adequately and equitably address the higher education needs of among the state’s poorest students.
The gift will fund scholarships for students who have made significant progress toward completing a certificate, degree or transfer, as well as emergency financial aid for students who face unexpected hardships. It will be administered by the Foundation for California Community Colleges over 20 years.
Eligible students will receive scholarships of up to $18,500 to reflect the actual cost of attending community college. Although tuition is low or free for many community college students, nontuition expenses like textbooks, transportation, food, housing and childcare often create barriers to completion.
Eloy Ortiz Oakley, chancellor of the 116-college system, said the massive gift “speaks to the empathy that many people are feeling right now toward the individuals and communities that have been hit hardest by the pandemic.”
Before 2020, it was estimated that more than half of the students in the California Community College system experienced food insecurity and one in five were homeless.
In addition, a survey of nearly 50,000 students by Oakley’s office in May and June found that 20% lacked access to reliable, high-speed internet, with Black and Latino students more affected than white students. More than half of the students surveyed reported their income had decreased, and 57% said they struggled with the basic needs of housing and food, with Black and Latino students again disproportionately affected.
“The Jay Pritzker Foundation grant is meant to serve those most in need who have the drive to succeed,” said foundation President Dan Pritzker in a statement. “Community colleges provide equal opportunity to pursue high-quality education without incurring crushing debt. We believe education is the key to preserving our democracy and hope others will join in supporting community colleges across the country.”
The money comes as community colleges nationwide are reporting increased fundraising success amid the pandemic, particularly those seeking support for emergency student aid. Community colleges raised 47% more in the first nine months of 2020 than they did in all of 2019, according to Inside Higher Education.
The Pritzker gift is aimed specifically at reducing regional educational gaps in California, one of