Humanities Windfall

In an era when the humanities are overlooked or derided by politicians, one Ohio community college landed a $10 million grant to boost the liberal arts.

June 19, 2015
 

Cuyahoga Community College in Ohio just received its largest donation ever, but the $10 million gift is notable for other reasons.

For one, the gift from the Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Foundation will go toward establishing the Mandel Humanities Center on the campus and building that program at the college. A gift of this size is unprecedented in its support of a community college humanities program.

“Traditionally Cuyahoga Community College has had a formidable emphasis on the humanities and liberal arts as a foundation of education to allow individuals to transfer seamlessly to four-year institutions,” Cuyahoga President Alex Johnson said. “This will allow us to emphasize even more humanities as a foundation of education and make sure individuals involved in the humanities program and center develop leadership skills to not only complete their education, but return to our communities.”

This past year, more than 1,300 students earned associate of arts degrees from the college, which is the degree that would be awarded to students in the humanities program. Based on statistics, more than half of the college's graduates transfer to a four-year college, and of those students, more than 40 percent successfully earn a bachelor's degree, said John Horton, the college's media relations manager.

The humanities program at Tri-C, like at other colleges across the country, covers everything from art, literature and philosophy to civics and developing leadership skills.

“Over the last 13 years our foundation has supported Tri-C because we believe in the college's mission,” said Morton Mandel, chairman of the foundation, in a news release. “Our foundation is committed to leadership and the advancement of higher education, and this grant furthers that mission.”

The college is taking its current liberal arts and performing arts building and renaming it after the Mandel Foundation, as well as spending about nine months renovating it into the new humanities center. That renovation will include creating space for individual computer use, teleconferencing areas, quiet study rooms and new classrooms.

The donation will also establish a chair for a new dean of humanities position to lead the center and form a scholars academy to provide scholarships for at least 200 high-performing students annually, Johnson said. The scholars academy will create a “holistic experience” and provide civic activities for students, although details of the courses and programs haven't been fully developed.

“This is out of sight. This is huge. I'm delighted to see something like this,” said David Berry, executive director of the Community College Humanities Association and a professor at Essex County College in New Jersey.

Berry said large donations have been made in the past to community college humanities programs, but none have been the size of what Cuyahoga has received, as far as he knows. He points to Paul Peck's more than $3 million in donations to Maryland's Montgomery College and the creation of the Paul Peck Humanities Institute.

“The humanities are an essential part of a student's education. We want to talk about educating the full person,” Berry said. “Workforce development is important, but along with that is problem solving, critical thinking and team building, all essential for student learning. I know there's a great emphasis on workforce development and STEM, but it doesn't mean the other components of the liberal arts aren't essential.”

Johnson said the college continues to have a robust workforce development path, but he agrees with Berry that the focus on humanities will also mean that students will eventually graduate with jobs.

The donation is an example of the college stepping up its fund-raising efforts, too, as they experience cuts in the state budget, he said.

Cuyahoga in the last five years has seen state funding decrease from about 40 percent to 30 percent of its budget, which is about $192 million annually, Johnson said.

“There is momentum at the state level to increase the supplement we get… but it doesn't take us back to where we once were at about 40 percent,” he said. “But this is an important responsibility we have, to ensure we not only raise money for programs but we keep the experience affordable [for students].”

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