courageous conversations to support our learners

I read an article this weekend in the New York Times about how the economy is impacting the ability of students to afford tuition and of foundations and colleges to offer scholarships.

The article, “Scholarships for College Dwindle as Providers Pull Back Their Support,” paints a dismal picture of a perfect storm: At the same time families are struggling financially, institutions are cutting back on private student aid.

There’s a logic to a conservative approach by the leaders in higher education and nonprofits, to ensure their sustainability and long-term fiscal health.

Yet, if our mission is to serve students, how do we back down when the need has never been more urgent?

Valencia Foundation’s board asked itself that same question in many discussions over the past six months. They weren’t always easy conversations and the questions were challenging: Are we who we say we are if we take the easy way out? How do we ensure we meet our fiduciary responsibility for the financial future of the foundation? What if things get worse?

My observation is that the questions were a necessary part of the board’s due diligence but, as I watched, the outcome seemed to be a forgone conclusion. Their intention was to meet our mission and assist our students, whatever it takes.

That doesn’t mean there weren’t some “yikes” moments along the way.

The next question was how, and that was a little simpler: We will raise the necessary unrestricted, new dollars to maintain our support from last year — and maybe even increase it a bit. That allows the endowment to recover at the same time that students are served.

The next steps will be less simple, securing those dollars. Over the past five years, the foundation tripled its disbursement of scholarship dollars, so the price tag is not modest and donors are tightening their philanthropic belts. (This reality inspired most of the yikes moments. :-))

It was a courageous commitment — official early this month — that runs counter to the strategy many nonprofits are taking, which is to await the economic upturn so they can return to normalcy. I can’t help wondering: At what price comes safety?

We have a volunteer board of 60 local leaders who “get it.” They are in this for the students and never forget they are our first priority.

Together with our loyal donors, we’ll make it happen. I have no doubt.


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