California Community Colleges receives historic $100-million gift for students most in need

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.



a group of people looking at a bird in a dark room: A historic gift to California Community Colleges will help more students complete degrees, transfer to universities and cover their basic living expenses. Above, Santa Monica College graduates are silhouetted at sunset as they line up to receive their diplomas. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)


© (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)
A historic gift to California Community Colleges will help more students complete degrees, transfer to universities and cover their basic living expenses. Above, Santa Monica College graduates are silhouetted at sunset as they line up to receive their diplomas. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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.

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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

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California Community Colleges Get $100 Million Gift for Financial Aid

The family foundation of

Hyatt Hotels

founder Jay Pritzker has pledged $100 million to California’s community colleges, the largest gift so far in that sector of higher education.

The money, which is to be spent over 20 years, is for scholarships and emergency financial aid for students who are nearing the completion of their programs and need some extra support to get to the finish line.

“People are falling all over themselves to give to the large research universities. And that’s great,” said Dan Pritzker, president of the Jay Pritzker Foundation. “But we chose to do this to try and have impact and try to shine a light on community colleges and the huge opportunity that students have.”

The gift will go to the Foundation for California Community Colleges, the system’s nonprofit auxiliary arm, and then be disbursed to individual campuses around the state. California has the nation’s largest community-college system, serving 2.1 million students at 116 colleges and providing a pipeline to the University of California and California State University systems.

Enrollment in the state’s community colleges is about triple the combined enrollment at UC and Cal State.

The foundation will start with grants to 34 community colleges in three parts of the state that have low rates of college graduates, awarding as much as $150,000 a campus during the first year. The first round of funds is being readied for distribution in coming weeks and can be put toward financial needs related to the coronavirus pandemic, including aid that helps students cover the cost of food, gasoline and child care so they can remain on track to graduate or transfer to universities.

Tuition at the state’s community colleges runs $46 a credit, or $552 for a 12-credit semester, for California residents. But nontuition expenses such as books, supplies and parking, as well as food and housing, raise the cost of attending community college significantly. Recipients can receive scholarships of as much as $18,500 under the new program.

Individual colleges will set eligibility guidelines, but recipients must be at least halfway toward finishing their certificate, degree or transfer requirements, take a full-time course load and already receive a California College Promise Grant, which covers enrollment fees. Some also might need to meet grade-point-average and other academic requirements.

“This historic gift changes the landscape for community-college philanthropy,” said Geoff Green, president of the Network of California Community College Foundations and chief executive of Santa Barbara City College Foundation.

He said the gift could “serve as a signal to donors across the country that community colleges are perhaps the best tools we have for increasing social and economic mobility, addressing economic barriers to higher education, and tackling equity issues in our communities.”

Write to Melissa Korn at [email protected]

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