The Advancement Angle: Shining Brightest Through Our Darkest Hours
At the juncture between just about every issue our country is facing and the ways each can be resolved, community colleges are stepping forward to act. When it comes to the COVID-19 pandemic, the economic crisis, unemployment, and racial injustice, community colleges may not offer a complete panacea, but their central role in overcoming so many of the challenges before us is undeniable:
- Community colleges train first responders and health care personnel.
- Community colleges equip workers with entirely new skills according to the needs of society (e.g., contact tracers).
- Community colleges provide opportunities for those who have been laid off to retrain and re-enter the workforce.
- Community colleges instruct and provide continuing education for law enforcement officers.
As such, it is shameful that even before our world was sent spinning head over heels, community colleges had rarely if ever been provided with resources that were sufficient to the tasks they were asked to undertake. With state budgets for higher education looking ripe to be stripped even further in the 2021 fiscal year (and beyond) and the outlook for additional federal aid uncertain, those meager resources are poised to dwindle even further. Community colleges must showcase how they are consistently at or near the center of so many solutions to the needs of our communities and our country.
In that regard, they’re already hard at work. For the past four months, everywhere I’ve looked, I’ve seen community colleges having a specific, positive impact:
- Led by Lethbridge College, 11 colleges in Alberta, Canada, banded together to launch a series of news releases and a video to raise awareness among their students, communities, and, more specifically, their provincial government about the role they have played and continue to play in the COVID-19 response and economic recovery.
- Community college foundations mobilized restricted and unrestricted funds in short order to provide emergency grant funds—some in amounts upwards of $2 million, like the Santa Barbara City College Foundation—long before CARES Act funding was even approved, let alone distributed.
- At Montgomery College, funds originally reserved for commencement and other in-person events were funneled into aid initiatives to assist students with laptops, fees, books and other supplies.
- Personal protective equipment, ventilators, hospital beds, and wheelchairs from community colleges flowed out to front-line responders and hospital staff to ensure their safety and support their tireless efforts.
- And, in response to nationwide protests against police brutality, community college system offices in Virginia and California have led the way in announcing broadscale reviews of their law enforcement curricula.
If now is a moment of opportunity for community colleges, then now is also the time for community college foundations and advancement offices to act. That said, advancement cannot be a blanket solution to their institutions’ financial hardships, just as community colleges are not a complete remedy to our country’s woes. But whether it is assisting in the underwriting of a new program, brokering new partnerships to advance workforce development, or securing funds from individuals, foundations, and corporations, advancement can and should play a pivotal role in colleges’ funding strategy.
It is imperative that community colleges be well-funded and supported to fulfill their key role in society and in the physical, economic, and social rehabilitation and recovery of this country. If they are not granted them by traditional means and channels, then they must look elsewhere. Thankfully, community colleges have an incredible case for support—now more than ever.
I am so proud of the many accounts of community college ingenuity and resourcefulness, creativity and responsiveness to the needs of our students and communities that I have seen and heard over the last few months. I know that none of this has been easy, that there have been obstacles and frustration and failures. But I know, too, that there have been new discoveries and celebrations and successes. Regardless of whatever unknowns the fall semester and beyond hold for us, now is the time for community colleges—and community college advancement—to shine.
About the author(s)
For more information about CASE's community college resources, contact Marc Westenburg, director, foundations and community colleges, at [email protected] or +1 202-478-5570.