‘Empowering voices the world needs to hear’


In her blog post on June 15, 2021, in which she announced awards going to 286 community-serving organizations, philanthropist MacKenzie Scott wrote, “The headline I would wish for this post is “286 Teams Empowering Voices the World Needs to Hear.”

Scott has awarded two rounds of billions of unrestricted grants to selected nonprofits, including community colleges: $2.7 billion was announced on June 15, 2021, and nearly $4.2 billion in December 2020.

Below are highlights of what four community colleges have done with their Mackenzie Scott grants to empower the voices of their students and communities.

New opportunities in the Big Apple

Eugenio María de Hostos Community College in the Bronx is in the poorest Congressional district in the United States, with a student population that is 98% nonwhite and predominantly Hispanic or Latino. The New York college’s mission is to serve the poor and address their community’s social, equity and fairness issues.

“(We deliver a) kind of education that transforms lives and communities,” said President Daisy Cocco De Filippis.

With the money provided by MacKenzie Scott, the college has launched eight President’s Initiatives for Student Success, College Growth. and Stakeholders’ Engagement.

The Families United in Education initiative targets prospective students from the same extended family. “Family” includes aunts, cousins, siblings and parents, as per the Latino understanding of “family.”

The Jobs on Campus initiative allows hiring students for up to 10 hours per week at $20 per hour. These jobs must be meaningful and located in professional settings. The participating students have faculty or staff mentors and attend workshops in math, finance management and how to succeed in college. They must also attend cultural events. Recently, the students saw “The Lion King” on Broadway, a first-time experience for many of them.

“Think of the joy of these students, from very young to more mature, getting on a subway to go see their first Broadway show,” said Cocco De Filippis. She notes that the college would not have been able to provide this experience for them were it not for Scott’s gift.

Hostos Community College created eight student success-related initiatives using its grant from MacKenzie Scott, including one focused on workforce issues. (Photo: Hostos)

The Hostos Mentoring and Supporting Students Accepted in 2+2+2 Opportunities Program is helping students complete the two-year program at the college, transfer into a related program at selected four-year colleges, and then continue for two years in a master’s program.

Cocco De Filippis also moved $30 million into an endowment from which the college has access to only the interest. Thus, the endowment will last indefinitely into the future.

“We are so ever grateful to (MacKenzie Scott) for what she’s giving, the opportunities to both the professionals and the students to engage generously and open a world of possibilities,” Cocco De Filippis said. “She has given new life to a very deserving place with a talented and caring team.”

Serving its community

At Harper College outside of Chicago, 1,000 Ignite Scholars are reaping the benefits of Scott’s gift through the school’s Igniting Paths to Success Scholarship. Many of the full-time and part-time students are finishing their studies sooner than planned due to removing the financial barrier.

One thousand scholarships for students of all ages creates a positive ripple effect, said President Avis Proctor. For example, older students return to college to update their knowledge and skills, creating role models for other family members and neighbors.

Proctor wants to be able to offer this scale of opportunity every year. She created an endowment with $9 million from Scott, which is half of the total gift the college received.

Proctor understands the potential impact of the Ignite Scholarships first-hand. She received a full scholarship as an undergraduate and knows the effect that had on her career trajectory.

“Now,” she says, “I see that happening a thousand times over.”

Proctor observed that Scott indicated in her blog that “Generosity is generative. Sharing makes more.”

“And so instead of it just being a gift to the college, we thought it was important also to have an impact on the community,” Proctor said.

So, Harper has set aside $100,000 of $1 million for the first year of Community Innovation Fund awards. A single organization can receive up to $50,000 and apply again within five years for a renewal grant.

“We’re excited that not only will our students benefit and accelerate to completing their goals, but also our community will benefit also,” Proctor added.

Helping those with little college exposure

MacKenzie Scott announced her gift to Walla Walla Community College in 2020.

“This is the sort of gift that was intended to be transformational,” said President Chad Hickox. “And we intend for it to be transformational, and we also want to put it into effect as quickly as possible.” 

The southeastern Washington college is designing a scholarship program targeting community members with little or no exposure to higher education.

“We’re attempting to guarantee students the financial and logistical support they need to complete their two-year program with us,” Hickox said. 

Initially, there will be a cohort of 50 students in the scholarship program.

“As we go forward, our goal is to build it out, to serve the needs of everybody,” said Jessica Cook, executive director of the college’s foundation.

Hickox expects the scholarship program to affect students of color and first-generation college students positively. He noted that 40% of the high school students in the college’s service area never go to college. Raising this percentage could have a significant impact on the community. He also noted that the program would help older and returning students.

Walla Walla is involving the community in its planning.

“We’re (asking) what they think will move the needle,” Cook said. “And we are telling our community that we are an open-access institution, and we will make sure that finances are not a barrier to student success.”

“The word transformative is a simple little word,” Hickox added. “You think you understand what it means until you get into the work. The conversations that this has catalyzed, the opportunity to think big about systemic change, … (about) changing the way we approach higher ed and access to higher ed for our community, is the true dimension of transformation that we’ve experienced because of this.”

Supporting its pledge

As with the other institutions, California’s College of the Desert (COD) was deeply involved in serving students in its region well before receiving Scott’s gift. Now, it can make a lasting difference for its students and community by creating an endowment for the college’s existing Edge and Pledge (EDGE/plEDGE) programs.

The college created the programs in 2017 to provide an opportunity for local high school graduates to attend the college free of paying tuition and fees for up to two years.

“I’m grateful for this amazing allocation of funding that will continue to support our Edge and Pledge programs,” said Martha Garcia, superintendent and president of the college, noting that the programs have benefited more than 9,000 students since they began.

Students who participated in College of the Desert’s Edge/plEDGE programs. (Photo: COD)

Now, thanks to the gift from Scott, the college has expanded the opportunity for other students.

“The gift makes us feel much more confident that we can afford this commitment, whereas we were not certain of that before,” Garcia said.

With five campuses across the Coachella Valley, an area of 303-square-miles with a total population of 365,000 in Southern California, the programs are having an effect, and now will continue to impact, many students and communities. Eighty-five percent of COD student population are a minority; 75% of those are Hispanic. Most students are first-generation college students.

“I express gratitude to Miss MacKenzie for identifying this institution,” Garcia said. “Out of over 1,000 community colleges in the United States, this one benefited, and it will continue to help the institution and the community from her generosity. We’re extremely grateful.”

About the Author

Michele Hujber
Michele Hujber is a freelance writer for higher education institutions and related organizations.