Mountain Empire Community College President Scott Hamilton presents C. Bascom Slemp Foundation trustee Nancey Smith with a dulcimer and invitation to next year’s Mountain Music School. The presentation followed the Slemp Foundation’s announcement of a $2 million gift for the MECC Foundation’s major gifts campaign last Thursday. PHOTO BY GLENN GANNAWAY. Click Here
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The Mountain Empire Community College Foundation announced a $2 million donation last Thursday that will launch a major gifts campaign supporting scholarships and programs targeting student success.
The college held a “Building for the Future” campaign kick-off celebration with a goal to raise $9 million. Foundation Chairman Gary McCann announced the C. Bascom Slemp Foundation will contribute $2 million toward the campaign. With additional pace-setting contributions, McCann said, $7.8 million has been raised in the campaign.
“The MECC Foundation is undertaking a major gifts campaign and invites broad participation in this effort to make higher education more affordable and accessible for local students,” said McCann. “The campaign will enable us to expand support for students who need additional help to enroll in college or complete college.”
Mountain Empire Community College serves the counties of Wise, Lee, Scott and a portion of Dickenson County as well as the city of Norton. The college’s total enrollment was 3,834 in 2013-14, with 1,671 full-time students and 2163 part-time students attending.
“MECC graduates are the foundation of the region’s workforce,” added MECC President Scott Hamilton. “They are police and corrections officers, IT specialists, health care professionals, retail and service industry specialists and business leaders. Our graduates are civic leaders, and they serve on boards and volunteers in our community. They contribute to their respective communities and make Southwest Virginia a better place to live and work.”
Despite a lagging regional economy, Foundation Executive Director Donna Stanley said she believes now is the time to invest in the future of Southwest Virginia by supporting higher education. In the last 10 years, the portion of state funding that MECC receives has decreased, while student tuition and expenses have doubled. With increasing demands for an educated and skilled workforce, community colleges are on the forefront of economic development efforts on the state and national level.
Making education affordable for all is a primary goal of the campaign, Hamilton noted. The highest campaign priority is to increase funding for the AIMS Higher Scholarship program, which guarantees students the opportunity to earn an Associate’s Degree at MECC tuition-free. In the past decade, 1,128 MECC students have benefited from the program.
“The MECC Foundation is raising funds for endowment to support scholarships and student success initiatives that benefit large numbers of students. Those initiatives cannot be sustained with college operating funds,” Hamilton added.
The Virginia Tobacco Commission began funding AIMS in 2003, Hamilton said, and has provided the bulk of funding. But, he said, the MECC Foundation will be the sole supporter of AIMS at some point: “the necessity of raising an additional scholarship endowment now, before it is needed, is clear,” Hamilton said.
The MECC Foundation is also seeking support for high school Career Coaches, who assist high school students in making plans for post-secondary education; and the Great Expectations Program, providing outreach and assistance to foster youth.
Foundation board member Jane Carter had first-hand experience with the Career Coaches and AIMS programs. Carter is a retired Scott County educator whose tenure included 20 years as a counselor at Rye Cove High School. Changes in state and federal programs, along with the responsibility of meeting with students, make for heavy demands on counselors, she indicated. But, she said, the addition of Career Coaches gives counselors more time to attend to their duties.
And, Carter said, “AIMS has made a huge impact on many students in our area,” whether they’re going on to college or entering the workforce.
In 2013-2014, the Mountain Empire Community College Foundation provided more than $270,631 in scholarships to 365 students through the donations of individuals, businesses, private foundations, and nonprofit organizations.
Recognizing Slemp Foundation trustee Nancey Smith as the campaign’s honorary chair, McCann noted that the Slemp Foundation has been one of MECC’s most generous donors. The $2 million gift “will allow the MECC Foundation to not only meet enrollment needs . . . but also invest in support programs,” McCann said.
Hamilton presented a handmade dulcimer and invitation to Smith, calling her “a great friend of the college and this region for many years.”
The campaign, which has also received boosts from employee and Foundation board member donations, “will help chart the course of MECC’s future,” McCann said.
(This story includes information provided by MECC and reporting by News Editor Glenn Gannaway.)