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2008 June 2 - 12:00 am

MONEY TREE 2: Calif. Colleges Receive Record $70 Million Gift

Leaders of the California’s community college system have announced a $70 million gift from the Bernard Osher Foundation in what is believed to be the largest donation ever made to a two-year college system in the United States.

The 109-campus system, the nation’s largest, will use some of that money in a fundraising campaign aimed at creating a $100 million endowment for scholarships, boosting the system’s collective endowment to an estimated $400 million.

Though the donation does not approach gifts given to elite private universities – Harvard University received a $100 million gift from David Rockefeller earlier this year – officials were elated with the support.

 “I am pleased to announce this historic gift by the Bernard Osher Foundation that will help thousands of our state’s community college students succeed each year,” said Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger in a statement. “I know firsthand the incredible value of community colleges from my time at Santa Monica College. They serve a vital role in preparing our workforce, and this gift will provide innumerable benefits to our state’s economy and diverse communities.”

Said Mary Bitterman, president of the Bernard Osher Foundation: “Bernard and Barbra Osher and the Osher Foundation’s trustees are making this gift to underscore the importance of our nation’s community colleges, to help address persistent financial needs and to encourage private philanthropy to support these institutions.”

In addition to the $50 million pledge to the system, the Osher Foundation will give $20 million for scholarships for community college students transferring to the California State University and University of California systems.

“We are all overjoyed about this historic and unprecedented gift to the California Community Colleges,” said California Community Colleges Chancellor Diane Woodruff. “The Osher scholarships will provide much needed financial support to many of our students who may not otherwise be able to complete their studies.” 

California community colleges enroll more than 2.6 million students. They enroll the state’s lowest-income students; full time students have an annual median income of $16,223, and one-fourth of those students have incomes of less than $5,544 per year, according to Schwarzenegger’s office.

Community colleges are considered to be a gateway to California’s four-year universities. Sixty percent of CSU and 30 percent of UC graduates are community college transfers.

They are also a leading provider of job training and career tech education. Eighty percent of firefighters, law enforcement officers and emergency medical technicians are credentialed at community colleges, and seventy percent of the nurses in California received their education from community colleges.

The foundation gift comes as the California faces a budget squeeze, with a projected budget deficit that could reach $20 billion. But officials said the Osher Foundation gift cannot be used to fill any budget shortfalls. It is restricted to scholarships. 

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