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“The Gift” One Year Later

“The Gift” One Year Later

December 17, 2021 Suzanne Seldes

New Opportunities, Greater Access for Indian River State College Students and Community

One year ago, author and philanthropist MacKenzie Scott pledged $45 million to Indian River State College (IRSC), the largest individual donation in the College’s 60-year history. The gift came without prescription—Scott writes on her blog “we believe that teams with experience on the front lines of challenges will know best how to put the money to good use, we encouraged them to spend it however they choose”—but with great responsibility.

"The Gift" One Year Later

The gift was made as part of the Giving Pledge, Scott’s commitment to give the majority of her wealth to address some of society’s most pressing problems. In 2020, IRSC was among 384 organizations that Scott made large gifts to after her team of advisors considered some 6,500 organizations along with data analysis on community needs, program outcomes, and each non-profit’s capacity to absorb and make effective use of funding. Donations were focused on those “operating in communities facing high projected food insecurity, high measures of racial inequity, high local poverty rates, and low access to philanthropic capital” and given “with full trust and no strings attached.”

IRSC announced news of the gift at its Fall Commencement ceremony on December 16, 2020, reaffirming the College’s critical mission and the commitment of its newly appointed President to redefine and reframe the narrative on how American community colleges can better serve its constituencies. On December 17, the College began its next chapter—to profoundly bolster its efforts to change lives.

“Our mission is to take students from any part of society and find ways to help them achieve their full potential,” said IRSC President Dr. Timothy Moore. “Ms. Scott has provided IRSC with a uniquely transformative opportunity to accelerate our ability to make post-secondary education attainable for citizens of our region, regardless of their circumstance or background. She has changed the trajectory for IRSC, and we in turn will change the trajectory for our students and our community.”

True North—Mission, Students and Community
IRSC is the only open-access, public institution of higher education in the four-county (Indian River, Martin, Okeechobee, St. Lucie) service district. Its student body is more diverse than America, with the majority, 53.5%, comprised of minority students. Thirty-seven percent (37%) of IRSC students are first-generation students, and 40.1% of students receive a Pell grant. Most of IRSC’s students (71.8%) are enrolled part-time and female students make up the majority (61.4%) of enrollment.

It is IRSC’s mission to transform lives by offering high-quality, affordable and accessible education.

Guided by its True North— Mission, Students and Community—the College has embarked on the first of a series of strategic initiatives aimed to provide economic uplift to historically underrepresented populations; meet the increasing demand for trained, diverse workforces; advance student success and well-being; invest in future generations; and develop critical partnerships that bring new opportunities and ideas to our students, region and nation.

In pursuit of those goals, the College is deploying $24 million dollars of the donation, which is about 53% of the total gift.

Building a workforce for the future
On December 14, 2021, exactly one year after receiving Scott’s gift, IRSC, along with area hospital leaders, announced that the College would double the size of its Nursing program to address the critical need for more nurses in Florida. Funds will be used to transform 50,521 sq. ft. at IRSC’s Pruitt Campus in Port St. Lucie into state-of-the-art nursing classrooms and simulated clinical settings. It would also create new pathways for students from other allied health certificates, offering them credit for prior learning when entering the Associate Degree in Nursing (R.N.) program. This exclusive pathway program reduces students’ time to degree completion and costs, while adding diversity to the nursing class by prioritizing field experience and prior learning in the application process. Roughly $13.5 million will support this largest program expansion in IRSC history.

Economic uplift
IRSC is moving with great velocity to support initiatives that support access and outreach to low-income, first-generation and historically underrepresented populations. To that end, a portion of the funds from the Scott gift will be used to create an endowment that builds on the success of the Lincoln Park Career Pathways Initiative (LPCPI). The program, centered at the Blackburn Educational Building in Fort Pierce’s majority Black, economically challenged Lincoln Park community, provides funding for tuition, transportation, and other support service for students receiving college credit or non-credit coursework that leads to an industry certification and ultimately to a good-paying job. To date, 71% of program completers have received credentials and are now working in industry-related jobs. The new endowment will fund tuition and provide emergency support for transportation, child care or other financial needs to dramatically expand access to this life-changing program. One million dollars is committed to this endeavor.

Advancing student success and well-being
During the pandemic, IRSC learned a great deal about new challenges students face. Students reported that they often do not have quiet places to study or reliable internet connections. They have missed the opportunity to study and interact with peers and classmates. As a result, IRSC is re-imagining student learning and social spaces, tools, academic support and more to advance student success, well-being and sense of belonging, which are essential elements of student retention.

IRSC is deploying $1 million dollars to develop a welcoming Student Learning Commons on its main campus in Fort Pierce. Located in the library, the Student Learning Commons will be a supportive and nurturing place for students to meet, study, and relax. Study skills are the most difficult to develop, and peer-to-peer tutors—prominent in the Learning Commons—are the most efficient way to assist students with learning. IRSC intends to duplicate a Student Learning Commons at each branch campus, furthering the reach of study services to all students.

Investing in future generations
IRSC understands that high-quality pre-school is the essential difference maker in the success of a child. The College intends to allocate $2.5 million in its Child Development Center. The Child Development Center provides quality, low-cost education and care for the children of our students, community members and faculty. It also provides hands-on learning experiences for students enrolled in IRSC Early Childhood Education programs. 

Developing critical partnerships
An indirect effect of the gift includes increased passion, energy, and visibility of IRSC and its mission.  Such attention has enabled IRSC to develop unique, groundbreaking partnerships with Adobe, Bloomberg, and Wolfram Researchto name a few. These partnerships have resulted in student, faculty and staff access to best-in-class research and technical software tools at no cost to them. No other community college in America offers these elite tools for free. As a result of these partnerships, IRSC students are uniquely poised for success in the classroom and gain a competitive edge for the modern workplace.

The multiplier effect
Scott writes in her blog: “We chose to make relatively large gifts to the organizations…both to enable their work, and as a signal of trust and encouragement, to them and to others.” IRSC has seen and will continue to see the direct effect of this generosity.

Recently, the College received two large restricted gifts. The first is a $2 million naming gift for the Eastman Advanced Workforce Training Complex, a purpose-built facility that will link advanced technology and leading-edge industry training in specialized technical career fields. The Complex, set to open in 2023, is cited as critical for closing the regional skills gap and preparing residents for high-wage, in-demand careers. The next is a $10 million restricted gift to develop and build a first-of-its-kind vocational charter high school in Indiantown, Florida, a rural majority Hispanic community. The new high school will be home to more than 400 students. Details about that project are forthcoming.

Changing lives
“IRSC exists to change the lives of those we are here to serve,” concludes President Moore. “We are grateful to Ms. Scott for the generosity and the trust she has placed in IRSC. We will continue to invest wisely to increase our capacity to educate and support more students, endow scholarships and instructors to propagate our mission in perpetuity, and expand programs of distinction which highlight IRSC as the education partner of choice for our community.”

IRSC will report, periodically, on future implementations of the gift. We invite you to check our online News Center for updates.

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