Earlier this year, we looked at contributions to higher education. Each year, individuals and organizations donate enormous amounts of money to colleges and universities—sometimes with the intention of benefiting nontraditional students. The problem, as Malcolm Gladwell has pointed out https://www.huffpost.com/entry/malcolm-gladwell-revisionist-history_n_578d2c6fe4b0c53d5cfa79e0 is that little of the money gets to the colleges (and cutting edge faculty) who do the bulk of the work in launching nontraditional or first-generation students into higher education.

The list of colleges receiving the most money is fairly similar every year. You can expect to find the Ivy League schools at the top, along with other prestigious institutions around the country. For the nontraditional students who attend those fine schools, it is an honor and a blessing—an experience that may well change their lives.

But most nontraditional students do not find their way to such schools. They are far more likely to attend college at public institutions, such as community colleges and state universities. The good news is that such places often do an outstanding job of educating them, and faculty members at such schools tend to be the ground-breakers in the field. Those schools and their faculty members play that critical role despite the fact that very little of donated money goes to their schools. What might happen if well-intended donors looked first not to the Ivies and their fellow top-tier schools but at the community college, for instance, right around the corner? We’re looking for philanthropists who can think outside the box.

As Malcolm Gladwell’s podcast http://dcs.megaphone.fm/PP7918990166.mp3?key=a6bc9841bdac89fbe9e7f7b9fe3b8606&listener=11ecdf14-071a-4f18-ae9b-913f49f0f993 points out, occasionally a donor does indeed think outside the box. Rowan University of New Jersey is a state school that has benefited from such vision.

Rather than support a prestigious school that probably already has the kind of endowment that could support innovation and academic support at a hundred community colleges, Mr. Rowan wanted to impact greater numbers of people who might not be able to attend a school like MIT, where he had studied. It’s a great story. His efforts have changed the realm of possibilities for aspiring students in New Jersey.


Maybe things are changing. Recently, Joseph and Marie Field donated one million dollars to Community College of Philadelphia, my alma mater. (I spent two years there as a student then 38 more years as a counselor and teacher). The article linked here includes the photo above of Joseph Field. https://www.inquirer.com/education/ccp-scholarship-returning-students-joseph-field-philanthropy-community-college-20190703.html This wonderful contribution will benefit students who did not attend college immediately after completing high school—itself a definition of “nontraditional” student.

And the band Metallica has seen fit to support students at ten community colleges. https://www.insidehighered.com/quicktakes/2018/12/14/metallica-donates-1-million-10-community-colleges Good on you, Metallica! That’s the philanthropic band’s James Hetfield in the main photo here. I love that scholarship money is finding its way to nontraditional students at these valuable schools, but I hope it doesn’t stop there.

Perhaps other potential donors will consider supporting innovative practices and pedagogical research at community colleges and the other schools that serve the bulk of nontraditional students to help faculty continue to create and lead. Those pioneering teachers deserve it.

In OPEN ADMISSIONS, I describe community colleges as “the least sexy niche in higher education.” But they and the other institutions that share their mission create turning points for so many nontraditional students. Attention, wise philanthropists: those important schools are right around the corner! Let’s get this message out there. Share, Share, Share!


Ned Bachus is the author of Open Admissions: What Teaching at Community College Taught Me About Learning (Wild River Books, 2017) and of the “Turning Points” weekly blog on nedbachus.com. City of Brotherly Love (Fleur-de-Lis Books), his book of stories, was awarded the 2013 IPPY Gold Medal for Literary Fiction. Bachus’s article, “Learning From Turning Points in Our Teaching Lives,” was featured in the May issue of NEA Higher Education Advocate, which reaches over 150,000 college faculty in the U.S.