MODESTO -- Money troubles have slashed California's once-envied support for education. But while grade schools and high schools strain to serve the same or fewer students, community colleges slog forward trying to serve traditional JC students plus swelling numbers of economy-minded transfer students and laid-off workers needing new skills.
On the hook between spiking demand and slipping revenue, Modesto Junior College moved this year to capture at least a sliver of control for its fiscal future. It hired a full-time fund-raiser.
George Boodrookas, executive director of advancement and the MJC Foundation, took the post Oct. 1. Working with him are two staff members, one full-time and one part-time, and student employees.
But don't expect legions of college students to descend on neighborhoods selling cookie dough and wrapping paper. JC fund-raising runs more along the lines of encouraging businesses and community members to donate and managing endowed funds for scholarships.
Such efforts have brought MJC roughly $540,000 annually in recent years, about midrange of all such foundations in California, Boodrookas said. The MJC Foundation provides an additional $75,000 to $125,000 in scholarships from endowed funds annually, depending upon investment returns.
Community colleges receive less than 2 percent of private donations to higher education, he noted. "We are working to change that picture," Boodrookas said.
He is not alone. The Network of CA Community College Foundations joined forces with the Council for Advancement and Support of Education in early October with an inaugural conference aimed directly at raising the profile of community college fund-raising.
"It was exciting to see a renewed emphasis on fund-raising in the community colleges at this conference," Boodrookas said. "I know we'll see growth in this arena in the coming years."
First up: reaching out to alumni, many for the first time.
"In early 2013, the college will be requesting local alumni to communicate their stories to the college and, in turn, the college will be sharing these stories and other college accomplishments with the broader community," Boodrookas said.
Scholarships remain the top priority for MJC, with other campus and student support next in line, he said.
Elsewhere in California, JCs are reaching out for help with just keeping their doors open.
Pasadena City College is seeking donations from alumni and others to restore some of the 570 classes it planned to cut this academic year. The campaign, launched in April, has received about $89,400 in donations, and the school is devoting $106,000 from savings resulting from some cost cuts, officials said.
The result: 35 classes are being revived in such high-demand fields as biology, political science and psychology.
"Community colleges are definitely taking huge steps in fund-raising that they have not in the past," said Bobbi Abram, executive director of Pasadena City College's foundation, which raised about $2 million last year. "Ten years ago, you would never hear of us raising money for this kind of thing."
Boodrookas said the MJC Foundation board is looking into the possibility for Modesto. "Las Positas College in Livermore recently began an effort similar to the Pasadena City College model, and we are in contact with their foundation staff regarding the model," he said.
MJC has switched several noncredit courses to be fee-based offerings through community education. The change allows the college to continue to provide the courses without pulling money away from regular college classes.
Two-year schools averaged $1.2 million in donations in 2011, compared with $90 million at research-oriented universities, according to a national survey by the Council for Aid to Education, a New York City-based nonprofit. Less than 1 percent of community college alumni donate, while nearly 20 percent do so at some four-year colleges, the survey found.
But if they are contacted, many alumni acknowledge that their community college education was valuable and they are willing to donate to their former schools, whether at a bowl-a-thon or through estate bequests, according to some school officials.
"More schools are coming to the realization that there are philanthropic dollars at hand," said Paul Heaton, who directs a center on community colleges at the Washington-based Council for Advancement and Support of Education.
In contrast with most four-year schools, many community colleges are just now taking the first steps: finding and reaching out to potential donors.
"You don't get if you don't ask," Heaton said.
The Los Angeles Times contributed to this story.
For more information or to donate to the Modesto Junior College Foundation, call George Boodrookas at (209) 575-6714.
Bee education reporter Nan Austin can be reached at email@example.com or (209) 578-2339. Follow her on Twitter @NanAustin.