Discover more from A Cape Cod Voice
Harvard could become our higher ed hero
A tiny drop in their bucket would be a major boost for our community college
“Veritas” means “truth.” Does that include the uncomfortable kind?
OK, I admit it: I am a Harvard grad, class of 1975, which also shows how ancient I have become.
Please don’t hold either against me.
The reason I’m coming clean now is to call your attention to a fascinating article that appeared in Commonwealth Magazine a few weeks ago called, “How Harvard Could Become a Higher Ed Hero” – and btw make this alum proud. Written by Lane Glenn, president of Northern Essex Community College, with his colleague Allison Dolan-Wilson, here’s the idea:
Last year Harvard’s mind-blowing endowment, fanned by a hot stock market, grew from $41.9 billion to $53.2 billion – that’s billions, an $11.3 billion bump in one year.
If Harvard were to take a mere 5.3 percent of the increase alone, not a rounding error but close enough, and just one time, one year, support Massachusetts’ 15 community colleges (including Cape Cod), every one of them would suddenly have another $40 million for their relatively tiny endowments.
If that $40 million generated 5 percent, that’s $2 million for each community college to work with each year, a huge bump for staffing, capital improvements, maybe an emergency fund to help students with living expenses like child care that can derail education (and lives) for many community college students.
Here’s one context:
“The extra money Harvard’s endowment earned last year was nearly 15 times as much as all of the community colleges in Massachusetts combined spent,” reports President Glenn.
Massachusetts community colleges spend a little more than $12,000 per student per year on average. By Glenn’s calculations, Harvard all-told, simple division, spends about $250,000 per year per undergraduate.
Then he plays out one more idea:
Harvard takes precious few transfer students. They should commit to accepting just two transfers from each community college a year, 30 students state-wide who meet Harvard’s criteria, amounting to less than 1.5 percent of the class.
You gotta love this, right? Or love the audacity it represents, the willingness to call out our famous Crimson institution of higher and higher ed.
You also gotta assume the idea is going nowhere, right?
President Glenn isn’t so sure. Since he published on March 6, he’s been getting a lot of quiet support and encouragement – though nothing official from Harvard. He also sees strategic advantage to making a move like this:
“Private” universities get plenty of public subsidies, tax deductible donations, tax-free real estate (Harvard chips in a small portion voluntarily), Pell grants for tuitions, major research funding.
This initiative would tamp down perennial calls for universities like Harvard to give more back. The most recent example, a bill filed last May in Congress called “The Ivory Tower Act,” would levy a one-percent tax on the fair market value of endowments held by the richest private colleges. For Harvard, coincidentally enough, that would be just about the same $600 million as Glenn’s proposal -- not once, every year.
Cape Cod Community College President John Cox is intrigued, sees “nuances to explore,” but he’s not holding his breath, nor is he holding back on his own fundraising efforts. “We're about 85 percent towards our $10 million capital campaign on the Frank and Maureen Wilkens Science and Engineering Center,” Cox reports, his major capital push. “We’re busy.”
“Our challenge continues to be getting our story across and making the case that if you truly want to make the transformational gift, $10,000 at the community college empowers so much more in higher education and socio-economic mobility than the same amount to a highly selective, excessively endowed institution,” Cox argues. “I’m mindful that people give money to support causes and institutions near and dear to their hearts. Much of those endowed funds and the earnings are restricted by donors. I'm not sure how receptive donors would be with this approach. Why don't they give directly to community colleges from the start?”
That’s a profound question Ivy League and Community College psychology professors could explore at length. But for now we won’t have any input from Harvard:
A request to discuss this with an appropriate spokesperson or two was never answered.
Then there’s Andy Scibelli, who was president of the Springfield Technical Community College for 21 years before his retirement to Yarmouthport. He also served on the board of the American Association of Community Colleges so rubbed elbows in DC – and had never heard of an idea like this.
“I love people who have big ideas and think outside the box,” said Scibelli, “but do I think it’s viable? From my perspective it’s probably a non-starter. Why would Harvard want to give us $40 million? I don’t see that, though they could offer something along the lines of, ‘Hey, you guys go out, raise a bunch of money, and we’ll match it.’ That would put some of our skin in the game and be more realistic.”
Scibelli makes his own contribution to the Cape’s community college:
For six years he has been mentoring two community college students a year as part of a unique program called Advocates for a Community College Education. Cape Cod high school graduates receive scholarships of $1000 per semester to attend 4C’s, provided they partner with volunteer mentors who help navigate the challenges of bureaucracy and academia. Sixteen students are in the program this year, with hopes for more as philanthropic support improves.
It’s not $40 million, but as a share of assets and capacity, one person vs one super-rich institution, it’s a far bigger relative contribution – one I’ve gladly made as well.
So no matter if Harvard takes its time writing the check. There are still many great ways to help the cause.
Haven’t subscribed yet? Here’s how to keep seeing a Voice: