A Gift to the Community: SBCC Foundation Receives $20 Million Donation

By Zach Rosen   |   July 1, 2021

It was recently announced that Santa Barbara City College and the SBCC Foundation will receive a $20 million donation from MacKenzie Scott. This gift is one of 276 donations to universities and community colleges that total to $2.7 billion and marks the largest gift in the 112-year history of SBCC.

The donation was made directly to the SBCC Foundation, which will help oversee how the funds are used. 

“Gifts like this are gifts within gifts. Because not only is it a very large gift, especially in the context of community colleges, but it’s also a completely unrestricted gift, and it’s an unsolicited gift,” said Geoff Green, CEO of the SBCC Foundation.

With no time limits placed on the gift as well, the foundation has a moment to determine how to best use this gift for SBCC, and ultimately, the community.

The Santa Barbara Foundation was established in 1976 and for the past 45 years has been supporting the growth of SBCC. Today, it is the largest community college foundation in California and in the top 10 largest in the nation out of 900. Geoff notes that the Foundation works with, and in support of, SBCC but is an independent organization with a separate staff. 

There are several benefits to having a foundation for an institution. Universities and colleges often have more restrictions in decision-making and even limits on how they can spend funds. For example, public institutions are legally restricted from investing public funds; however, a foundation, as a separate entity, can establish an investment portfolio that helps with the long-term growth of a fund. This recent gift increases the SBCC Foundation’s total assets from $70 million to $90 million. Although this may seem significant, it is also relatively small when compared to the foundations of four-year universities, or the Ivy League, which have billions of dollars in their foundations. 

Green views this gift not as the last one, but one of the first for the college. This donation is part of a bigger trend among philanthropists who have started to recognize the impact that these two-year institutions have on their communities. This donation is coming at an ideal time, as SBCC has long been facing some challenges.

Enrollment at community colleges often has a reciprocal relationship with unemployment. SBCC had peak enrollment during the last recession from 2008 to 2010 but enrollment has been on a 10-year decline since then, yet the size of the institution has not changed. Of course, the pandemic added its own set of challenges and further exacerbated the decline in enrollment. The three federal aid packages released during the pandemic did an increasingly better job at supporting community colleges and has helped SBCC get its budget in the black for the next few years. However, these were one-time relief funds and do not necessarily provide long-term solutions that SBCC is looking for. With this most recent gift, the SBCC Foundation can begin that work.

Now the Foundation and college administrators will have meetings to strategize how this gift can have the biggest impact.

“I think of student supports. I think of programs. I think of new innovations and teaching modes. I think of capital projects. For me, that’s kind of the universe of possible uses for the money,” Green said.

Green believes the funds could help endow the range of award-winning programs that SBCC has established over the years. From their Transitions Program that helps individuals exiting the criminal justice system enter SBCC, or the school’s SPARC program that aids single parents, these different programs support a wide range of community members. Currently these programs are supported by the Foundation but establishing endowments for them could ensure that these programs continue to thrive. 

One of the issues that became very apparent throughout the pandemic was the greater societal needs that students face. SBCC had to help support its students in new ways during this time — and not just helping provide ready access to health care, but also the technical accessibility to education. As learning moved online, it became apparent that not everyone had access to computers, internet, or even just a quiet place to work. The future of learning will likely be a hybrid of online and in-person, and Green says funds could be used to make sure that their students are equipped with the basic resources they need. 

“Community colleges meet students where they’re at and that is a really unusual thing in higher education. We are absolutely built to meet students wherever they’re at,” Green said. “They could be the valedictorian and they just need some opportunities and few supports, or they could be someone who never thought they’d ever make it to college, and everything in between.” 

Over the years, the Foundation will sometimes be approached by a teacher with an innovative idea for a new program or teaching concept. As good as some of these ideas can be, there often is not enough resources to fund them. This unrestricted gift could be used to help support some of these experimental programs.

There is also a natural inkling to suggest that some of the funds are used to increase teacher wages, particularly in the shadows of a school year that was more challenging than usual. But Green notes that while this is a critical issue, these specific changes should occur through institutional policy changes and not necessarily from a donation. 

While the campus is known for its beauty, Green notes that many buildings on the campus could use an update, with some of the funds potentially earmarked to aid that quest. Capital projects are a little more complicated, also requiring a bond, which SBCC has had mixed success with. They can also be very expensive, but Green notes that an extra $20 million can help a building project go from an ordinary one to an extraordinary one with state-of-the-art technologies and materials. 

Green believes this gift “was given because of a generation of good work” and whatever the SBCC and the Foundation decides to do with the gift, it will continue in that same vain.


You might also be interested in...