Publications & Research

From Local Scholarships to Regional Leadership: Insights on an Initiative That Surpassed Expectations

Elizabeth González, Chief Program & Strategy Officer, College Futures Foundation

College Futures Foundation is pleased to share top takeaways from a recent initiative that has changed the way seven California community foundations approach scholarships and leadership in their regions.

Running from 2015 to 2020, the Community Philanthropy Initiative (CPI) was our first major initiative. This $20 million investment marked our pivot from directly providing student scholarships to effecting systems change toward more equitable B.A. completion and lifelong opportunities across our state.

We initially set out to increase the availability of scholarships to students with financial need and those underrepresented in higher education—understanding that traditional scholarships often benefit students who are already well funded and connected. We saw that community foundations could shift this tide, given their role as scholarship administrators, as well as their deep local knowledge and relationships.

Community foundations in the CPI poured their hearts and souls into this work, and as a result the demographic mix of students receiving their scholarships changed to more closely reflect the demographics of public school students in their regions. The proportion of students attending public institutions in California instead of private, out-of-state schools increased. Participating community foundations also secured more sustainable funds for strategic need-based scholarships.

But that’s not all. These community foundations leveraged the planning and implementation grants, scholarship funds, peer learning and sharing opportunities, and technical assistance College Futures Foundation made available to them through the CPI into something more: They expanded on their new approach to serving students and engaging donors and began leading or participating in powerful, multi-sector initiatives across their regions to dismantle systemic barriers to college access and completion.

The CPI community foundations provide a living example of the importance of regional leadership on entrenched issues of equity in education, because no single institution or individual can undo systemic issues, and all have something valuable to contribute. In fact, College Futures Foundation is building on lessons from this venture in regional leadership in our new initiative, Community Engagement for College Success Network.

We think others might find inspiration and insight from the CPI as well. College Futures invites peer foundations at work on their own initiatives; community foundations interested in strategic, need-based scholarships; and any decision maker in education or philanthropy seeking to bring about equity in education to download and share this new resource: The Power of Collective Community Philanthropy: Lessons from Leveraging Local Leadership for Greater Equity and Opportunity describes the CPI’s intent, structure, and impact, and it spotlights real examples from the participating community foundations, some of which continue to lead and collaborate on regional change efforts in education.

We are excited to share this powerful impact story of regional philanthropy—how organizations adapted the way they approach scholarships and donors to be more focused on addressing the barriers to college access and completion on a larger regional scale. This group of foundations is changing the narrative about the leadership role community foundations can play in furthering equity in college completion and student success in their regions.