“Community colleges are still charged to seek supplemental funding to support services, student scholarships and innovative projects that will further advance our work,” said Quintin Bullock, CCAC president.
By Joyce Gannon / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Back in the 1970s when Peter DeComo attended Community College of Allegheny County, its North Side classrooms were kept cool by fans and open windows.
The former mansion on Ridge Avenue that still houses school facilities didn’t have air conditioning when he commuted from Ford City, Armstrong County, to earn an associate degree in respiratory therapy.
Since his days as a student, CCAC has grown to four campuses, four regional centers including one in Washington County, and has enrollment of 43,000.
These days, Mr. DeComo serves as chairman of the board of the CCAC Educational Foundation. And when he eyes the new and updated facilities on its Allegheny Campus — including a science center, a bookstore and a Starbucks — he knows the impact the foundation has had.
“Not that it’s a huge foundation by any stretch of the imagination,” he said. “But there’s always a gap you have to fill to get things done and that’s where the foundation can help.”
With assets of just over $9 million, the foundation is modest compared with the endowments of large, four-year universities. While it doesn’t fund major building projects, its money has made a difference inside facilities where students earn two-year degrees and complete career certificate programs.
For instance, the foundation purchased lab equipment and smart classroom technology for the K. Leroy Irvis Science Center opened on the North Side in 2013; and it funded the HVAC lab at the Energy Innovation Center in the Hill District where CCAC offers training in skilled trades.
Because the foundation also oversees general fundraising efforts for the school, Quintin Bullock, CCAC president, is optimistic it can help the school’s ambitious plans to develop a new workforce development center on the North Side. That center would focus on education and training for jobs in industries such as information technology, health care, cybersecurity, culinary arts and the skilled trades.
The proposed center is a direct response to a report released last year by the Allegheny Conference on Community Development that warned the Pittsburgh region faces a shortfall of 80,000 workers over the next decade if it fails to invest in training, education and recruitment.
Total cost for the workforce development center has yet to be determined but Mr. Bullock said it will require building a new facility.
Another of his goals is constructing student dormitories to house 150 at CCAC’s Boyce Campus in Monroeville. The foundation’s role will be to design a fundraising campaign, apply for foundation and federal grants, and solicit individual donors.
A five-year capital campaign conducted between 2008 and 2013 generated $40 million. That campaign, launched at the start of the Great Recession, exceeded its goal of $30 million.
Nearly a decade later, the fundraising climate still can be difficult, Mr. Bullock acknowledged, but he believes CCAC’s career-focused mission can be an advantage. “Perhaps with more emphasis on developing new initiatives for workforce and career technical programs, the funding will align,” he said.
Behind the eight ball
Among the challenges to raising money is the perception that because community colleges receive most of their funding from the state and county, they don’t need extra dollars.
“Community colleges are still charged to seek supplemental funding to support services, student scholarships and innovative projects that will further advance our work,” said Mr. Bullock.
Though the foundation was created in 1979, it didn’t become aggressive in growing its assets until the 1990s when a handful of civic leaders led by the late Allegheny County Commissioner Tom Foerster “sought to re-energize” the school, said Rose Ann DiCola, the foundation’s chief executive.
Its first major campaign raised $5 million for a student services center named after Mr. Foerster who, as a state legislator from the North Side in the 1960s, sponsored a bill to launch the community college system in Pennsylvania.
When Ms. DiCola joined the foundation in 2002, its assets totaled just over $1 million. “Community colleges in general have been behind the eight ball in private fundraising and getting their foundations going,” she said.
Another challenge is a lack of the cachet associated with much larger and long-established public and private colleges and universities. The University of Pittsburgh, for instance, has an endowment of $3.5 billion and Carnegie Mellon University’s is $1.7 billion.
Those schools also have a much larger percentage of graduates with high net worth who can be tapped for donations, Mr. DeComo noted. A study by the Council for Advancement and Support of Education found one half of 1 percent of alumni of community colleges made contributions in 2012, compared with 13 percent of alumni from four-year universities.
Alums to open doors
In recent years, CCAC’s foundation has recruited prominent alumni such as Mr. DeComo to help raise the school’s visibility. “Board members with connections in the community can open doors,” said Ms. DiCola.
Other alums on the board include Edward Karlovich, chief financial officer, hospital and community services division, UPMC; Emanuel DiNatale, a partner at accounting firm BDO; and construction industry consultant Jesse Campayno.
Some who recently rotated off the board are Robert Sendall, a high-profile chef and owner of catering and event business All in Good Taste Productions; and Charlene Petrelli, vice president and chief human resources officer for EQT Corp.
Throughout CCAC’s 50th anniversary celebration last year, the foundation underwrote a series of events to highlight programs including a production of August Wilson’s “Fences” at CCAC’s South Campus in West Mifflin; a car cruise at the West Hills Center in North Fayette; and a wellness fair at Boyce.
It capped the festivities with a gala in November at the Wyndham Grand Pittsburgh Downtown, which generated $325,000.
The foundation achieved its goal to increase scholarships by raising $400,000 that will endow 33 new scholarships of at least $10,000 apiece.
“There’s no doubt about the fact that all community colleges, not just ours, have a stigma that it’s one step below a major university,” said Mr. DeComo. “In the eyes of some students, we’re the 13th grade. So we need to do more around credibility, visibility, and validity.”
After attending CCAC, Mr. DeComo, 69, went on to earn bachelor’s and master’s degrees at Pitt and worked at UPMC Shadyside and a large health services company prior to launching his own businesses, Renal Solutions and ALung Technologies.
ALung, which he founded in 1997, last week closed on $36 million in new financing targeted for clinical trials of a device that assists patients with respiratory disease.
“My ability to raise money for my companies all came from my experience at CCAC,” said Mr. DeComo. “It provided me a fundamental understanding of basic sciences and what I’m doing now as an entrepreneur … And a comfort level standing in front of anybody who would listen.”
Joyce Gannon: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1580.
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