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Volume 3, Issue 2

Motivating Students to Fill the Funding Gap

Community colleges can grow student giving by educating students that tuition doesn't cover the actual cost of attendance, says an advancement leader.

Marsha M. Ray, vice president of institutional advancement at the Community College of Philadelphia and executive director of its foundation, calculated that tuition at her institution only covers 57 percent of the cost of attendance. The remainder is paid for by state and local government funding as well as private donors to the institution.

To educate students, the institution held "Tuition Gap Day" this spring—a symbolic point in the academic year at which tuition no longer covers the cost of attendance and when public and private funding must fill the remaining "gap." Student volunteers on the college's four campuses talked to fellow students about the importance of private philanthropy to their education and asked them to make a gift to a scholarship fund.

Students at Community College of Philadelphia

Tuition Gap Day student donors.
Photo courtesy of Community College of Philadelphia.

"Students told us that the strongest message to encourage their fellow students to give was talking about scholarships," Ray says. "They could understand the students who were in need and that wouldn't be able to attend without assistance."

She adds that the college's goal—and one that was communicated to students during Tuition Gap Day activitites—is to build a scholarship fund that would eventually fund the final semester for every student who is on track to graduate with a degree.

About 7 percent of the student body made a donation during Tuition Gap Day events, setting a new student-giving record at the institution. Ultimately, more than 1,400 students, faculty and staff contributed nearly $4,000.

"The goal is to get as many students to donate as you can; not raise as much money as you can," says Ray, noting that the college has made steady progress in encouraging student giving during the past three years that it has held Tuition Gap Day events.

Students at Community College of Philadelphia

A Tuition Gap Day student volunteer.
Photo courtesy of Community College of Philadelphia.

Still, Ray says the foundation had to spend money to make money this year. Although the activities raised about $4,000, the foundation spent about $6,000 providing student volunteers with resources to market the Tuition Gap Day message to their peers—volunteers competed to see which of the college's four campuses would raise the most money—and for an end-of-the-year barbeque to which all student donors were invited.

"I strongly believe in building student giving while they're still here, even if that costs us money," Ray says. "The focus is all about building a habit of giving."

She says the end-of-the-year barbeque, for example, is worth the expense because it demonstrates stewardship to student donors and treats them as any other donor to the college.

Ray credits her institution's leaders with understanding the value of these investments in encouraging student giving, knowing that it may take time to generate positive returns. Still, she is optimistic that next year's Tuition Gap Day festivities will be bigger, garner more student support and possibly break even with expenses.

Please share your questions and comments with Marc Westenburg via email at or +1 202 478 5570.

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This article is from the August 2013 issue of the Community College Advancement News.