A Culture of Philanthropy
Most people know that the cost of a college education is high and climbing higher. Some know that state government support for public institutions has dropped dramatically (College of DuPage, for example, budgets for less than three percent of its revenues to come from the state). And many have heard that students often incur significant debt trying to bridge the gap.
But few people know about college foundations—independent not-for-profit organizations whose sole beneficiary is the school they serve.
The College of DuPage has one such foundation.
After many years of serving quietly as a receptacle for donor dollars, the College of DuPage Foundation is now flexing its fundraising muscle and making more impact.
With almost $13 million in assets, the COD Foundation is aggressively pursuing its mission to “Increase access to education and enhance cultural opportunities for the surrounding community.”
Last fiscal year, the COD Foundation awarded more than $1 million in scholarships
and financial aid, plus support for cultural arts, academic programs, educational
equipment, faculty awards and more.
College of DuPage Foundation Growth of Scholarships and Awards 2009-2013
In recent years, the Foundation also has helped fund health sciences to prepare nurses, homeland security to train first responders and culinary programs to train food-service professionals.
Foundation Executive Director Cathy Brod said it’s unusual for a community college to have such a strong foundation.
“Compared to four-year institutions, it’s not as common,” said Brod. “But there’s been increased interest, especially in the past five years.”
Brod came to COD after years of fundraising for Harper College, the University of Illinois Health Center and the American Cancer Society.
Foundation Board Chair Susan Lang Berry said Brod’s impact has been immediate, with fundraising doubling in 18 months.
“It’s a fascinating time of transition,” said Lang Berry, managing director of Private Bank and Trust Co.
“Cathy’s brought a focused approach to fundraising. We go to people who’ve benefited from COD. We just recruited a graduate to the board. We have more board members and the level of investment has escalated. There’s a real commitment to seeing COD succeed.”
Brod said community college foundations look more to the community than alumni for their support. Indeed, the COD Foundation boasts many contributions from and partnerships with local firms, including those that frequently hire COD graduates or send employees to COD for continuing education.
In addition to seeking community support, the Foundation runs an employee campaign and receives strong financial support from COD faculty and staff.
While Brod and Lang Berry are pleased with community and employee support, they’re confident alumni will be more active once given the opportunity.
“One reason community college fundraising among graduates is often less successful than four-year institutions is that many—including COD—have no alumni association. In fact, only about 15 percent of community colleges have an alumni relations program.
“We want to change that,” said Brod, who plans to add an alumni relations director soon.
“Alumni giving potential is strong,” said Brod. “Many of our students have less debt load than their four-year-college counterparts. They’re out working and successful. I hear often that they’d like to help COD students who are experiencing what they experienced.”
Fundraising isn’t the only reason Brod and her colleagues are building a database of 120,000 COD graduates. Brod believes many COD alumni would like to get involved as volunteers to benefit today’s students.
Brod is also working to create a culture of philanthropy on campus so that future alumni know the benefits of giving after they graduate.
Whether through gifts of time, talent or treasure, Lang Berry says the impact of contributing to COD is significant.
“With the cost of COD at just over $4,000 per year,” said Lang Berry, “a $500 to $1,000 scholarship is a big deal. Imagine that going to a single mom completing her degree; it just pulls on your heart.”
Lang Berry says COD’s cost-effectiveness has a big impact on the Foundation’s fundraising success.
“As people get to know the college better, it trickles down to the Foundation,” said Lang Berry. “The students’ needs—and potential—are great. When they hear our story, they ask, ‘What can I do to help?’ It’s very contagious. We and our students are grateful for every dollar of support.”
Feeling the Benefit: Two who Received scholarships from COD
At 18, Wheaton’s Michael Restaino is working on Plan A and Plan B at College of DuPage.
Plan A: He becomes the next Jim Belushi, goes to work at Second City. Lands on “Saturday Night Live.”
Plan B: He becomes the teacher every student wants.
“I don’t mind being a starving artist; I can afford to lose a few pounds,” said Restaino. “But seriously, with a teaching degree, I’ll be able to substitute while I’m auditioning and in-between gigs. Nonetheless, if I do become a starving artist and hate it, or if a career in acting is just not in my cards, I feel completely comfortable following another dream: teaching.”
Michael Restaino: College of DuPage Presidential Scholar
Besides, said Restaino, “I think a theater degree would be extremely helpful in the classroom. In order to keep their students’ attention, teachers constantly must compete with modern technology. Being theatrical and entertaining will help.”
Restaino, who plans to graduate from COD in the spring of 2015, is a COD Presidential Scholar. That means a full-tuition scholarship and enrollment in COD’s Honors Program.
In his “spare” time, Restaino works with the before-and-after-school program at a local elementary school and is assistant choir director for a Catholic school.
He loves two COD comedians who came before him: the Belushi brothers.
“Jim Belushi came to visit my elementary school a few years ago,” said Restaino. “I was very excited! Of course, I was in high school at the time and didn’t actually get to see him.”
Laurie Walker: Illinois Health Improvement Association Scholarship recipient
Laurie Walker remembers the date: Dec. 23, 2003. That’s the day the younger of her two sons was diagnosed with diabetes. It’s also the date that inspired Walker to change careers.
In the mid-80s, Walker earned a bachelor’s in Mass Communications at Illinois State University and took summer classes at COD to get ahead in school while completing an internship.
Twenty-five years later, the Aurora resident wanted to work in medicine.
“Eight months after Brian’s diagnosis, I started working as a nursing assistant at the endocrinology office where my son was treated. Their physicians and nurse encouraged me to go back to school to earn my nursing degree. The nurse at my son’s endocrinology office was also the mother of a child with diabetes. That combination was invaluable to our family and me. I wanted to be able to provide that same experience to other families navigating diabetes.”
So with her older son at Marquette and Brian in high school, Walker won a scholarship and earned her associate’s degree in nursing. After graduation, she landed a nursing job with DuPage Medical Group and helped launch its Pediatric Endocrinology Group.
Walker said the scholarship made a big difference.
“There seem to be fewer scholarships available to returning students,” said Walker. “Many scholarships are for recent high school graduates. I had to search for scholarships that were appropriate for a returning student.
“I had to cut back my work hours to accommodate my classes and studies. This scholarship helped fill the gap. Plus, I was paying for my oldest son to attend college at a four-year university.”
Brian is now 20 years old, working toward a bachelor’s in Environmental Health, and took a summer class at COD to get ahead in his studies. He plans to take another this summer.
Like mom, like son.
Photos of Laurie Walker by Terence Guider-Shaw/special to College of DuPage; photo
of Michael Restaino by Corey Minkanic/special to College of DuPage.
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