Investing in College Success

Smart investors believe in California. They flock to it for the spirit of innovation and entrepreneurship that has made it the world’s 8th largest economy. Now, with Los Angeles County facing a major college graduation crisis, these same smart investors are backing the educational future of low-income students. They realize that giving isn’t just good, it’s good for business.

This post is part of the #CF100 Series of blog posts. The Council on Foundations is marking the 100th anniversary of the nation’s first community foundation, The Cleveland Foundation, by highlighting the roles of community foundations with this series.

By some estimates, only 12 percent of L.A 9th graders will complete college. This is a crisis, not just for the students, but for California’s economy as a whole. By the year 2025, 40 percent of all California jobs will require a bachelor’s degree. With a projected gap of 2.3 million degree holders, companies of tomorrow will go elsewhere, and California’s economy will suffer.

So what’s behind the crisis? Since 1980, the average four-year college tuition has grown by over 530 percent. Even when students can get scholarships, they are often only for a single year, meaning students may get to college but still can’t afford to get their degree.

For many first-generation college students, informational resources and support networks are just as critical as financial support. One study found that low-income, high-achieving students are 53 percent more likely to apply to college when they receive customized information kits outlining the net costs of various colleges and universities.

Investors around the country agree this crisis is a top priority. The Kresge Foundation recently announced a $1 million commitment to the Los Angeles Scholars Investment Fund, which aims to increase college success for low-income Angelenos by combining multi-year scholarships with college advising and support services such as mentoring and academic training. This joint initiative, established by California Community Foundation and College Access Foundation of California, gives low-income L.A. students the best chance of graduating from college. Kresge President and CEO Rip Rapson stated, “As a national funder interested in expanding opportunities in America’s cities, we feel a responsibility to invest in college success for low-income Los Angeles students.”

Californians who earn a bachelor’s degree average nearly $1 million more in lifetime earnings. If these earnings are spent in L.A. County, that means higher tax revenues, more jobs, more successful businesses and a stronger Los Angeles. To Chet Pipkin, Founder and Chairman and CEO of Belkin International, that’s a winning investment, “We can’t thrive as a city without their contributions,” Pipkin said. “It’s our responsibility as a community to do our part to support them in their path to college completion. Philanthropists, businesses and lovers of L.A. alike have a stake in their future.”

To learn more about the Los Angeles Scholars Investment Fund and how you can invest in the future of California by helping low-income students get to and through college, visit

John E. Kobara is the EVP & COO of the California Community Foundation, Los Angeles County’s largest foundation by giving and the tenth largest community foundation by assets in the United States. He has deep experience in providing innovation and opportunity in the education field, having headed the CK12 Foundation, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Los Angeles,, and served as Vice Chancellor of UCLA. John serves on the boards of the Japanese American National Museum, HubLA and Walden University and writes a popular blog on career development at In 2010, John was awarded a Crystal Eagle for distinguished service by Coro of Southern California. He received the 2007 City of Angels award from LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. He earned degrees from UCLA, USC, and Occidental College.

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