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May 2007
A Capital Opportunity
By Susanne Deitzel

      Education. It’s good, necessary, and benefits everyone, but still manages to create more dissent in living rooms and public forums than almost any other topic.

And it all comes down to money. Folks say, “There’s just not enough of it; things are a mess.” We demand more from the state, from the county, from the government, and from taxpayers. But when CPCC President Dr. Tony Zeiss enters a conversation concerning education, it assumes a different tone.

     Zeiss agrees, lo—preaches, that education is the key to happiness, enlightenment and self-sustainability. But what he refuses to embrace is an attitude of scarcity, entitlement or negativity. He also doesn’t allow money to get in the way of providing a service for the everyday people who really need it.

     Zeiss says simply, “The money is out there. It’s just a matter of finding it.”

And he should know. The most recent CPCC Foundation fundraising campaign led by Dr. Zeiss, and co-chaired by Mr. and Mrs. Tommy Norman as well as honorary chairs Mr. and Mrs. John Belk, blew expectations sky-high. The formal CPCC Foundation Creating Opportunities campaign goal was $15 million over five years; the Foundation had over 8,000 donors and raised over $28 million.


The Campaign

     The CPCC Foundation is a 501(c) 3, a not-for-profit entity established in 1965 to secure financial support for the college outside of public funding. With over 70,000 students and climbing, and a strategic plan designed to make CPCC ‘The Career College,’ there are significant and recurring budget shortfalls that challenge the institution’s ability to respond to existing and emerging community needs.

     The Creating Opportunities campaign began its silent phase in 2001, as the initiative was being planned and researched, and the groundwork was being laid. Zeiss, his cabinet and Foundation board members designed a charette of the campaign, and distributed case statements and interviews to 35 community leaders to gauge feedback on the initiative.

     Based upon the positive results and research data on the philanthropic activity of the community, the outlook was bright. Historically, the highest figure that had been raised in any single CPCC campaign was $6.6 million in 1994. Based on this figure, the consulting company suggested a target of $7.5 million, which they considered to be “doable, but optimistic.”

     Recalls Zeiss, “We were sitting around the table, having paid all this money to an agency to get a reliable figure, and then when we heard it, Tommy Norman and I both looked at each other and simultaneously said, ‘Double it!’”

     But that was publicly. Between themselves, Norman and Zeiss were aiming for $25 million. This was because they knew CPCC had positive forces working in its favor, not the least of which was the school’s growth in the six years between the 1994 campaign and the beginning of this new campaign.

     Zeiss explains, “We had time to put the school on the map. We worked hard at giving people a chance to hear and appreciate the value of the college, as well as our needs. That hadn’t been done before. Plus, in that period of time, we have gotten to know a lot more people.”

     With five new campuses, national recognition, and a well-regarded and dedicated faculty, CPCC has emerged a vital lifeline to the economic development of Charlotte-Mecklenburg as a region. Its success is also due in no small part to the charismatic leadership of Zeiss, considered a national champion of education.

     Zeiss is the author of nine books, a popular speaker, and the recipient of several distinguished awards. However he contends that what is most important to him is his role as a servant leader carrying the banner of accessibility in education.

     Comments Zeiss, “University systems are required to be exclusive, in terms of cost, SAT scores, grades, and other performance criteria. The community college is about inclusion; getting quality education to as many people as we can reach.”

     Tommy Norman echoes Zeiss, “All you have to do to understand the value of CPCC is to attend a baccalaureate commencement and see the diversity of people walking across the stage. Then, when you have a chance to hear the stories of how their CPCC education improved their lives, the effect is immediate and astonishing.”

     This is why of the $15 million, the largest piece of the pie was earmarked to pay for the education of the working poor. A $10 million endowment would be created for scholarships; $2 million would be designated for faculty support—salary enhancements and new class start-ups; another $2 million would fund technology and equipment needs; and the remainder would be set aside for incidental expenses.

      But even with the current level of campaign support at $28.2 million, there is still a lot of ground to cover.

     Explains Tommy Norman, “In the past six or seven years, government financial support for community colleges has dropped 22 percent. At the same time, our enrollment has gone up 33 percent. That is a gap that gets wider and wider.”

       Community colleges also provide more services than most people realize. Explains Zeiss,“Twenty-three percent of American adults in 2006 were functionally illiterate. Over 70 percent of the high school graduates that enter our doors have to be remediated before they can begin a course of study. Last year we had 7,000 people being taught English as a second language (ESL) prior to beginning their studies.”

These programs are hardly free.

      As K-12 student enrollment grows in the region, so do the college’s enrollment figures. Zeiss says 30 percent of local high school graduates come to CPCC. In addition to these ‘emerging’ workers, there are also credit-seeking continuing education students, corporate education students, and the GED/ESL students.

     While CPCC has the same SACS accreditation as state universities, it has far less funding. Zeiss says North Carolina pays state universities an estimated $7,000 to $12,000 per full-time equivalent (FTE) student for a required 12 credits; it pays CPCC $4,000 per FTE and requires the student to take16 credits to fulfill the FTE.

      Despite the fact that career schools require current equipment to provide skilled labor, funds for equipment allocations are also minimal. Zeiss estimates that last year they had $24 million in legitimate equipment costs and fought to receive the mere $1.5 million that came in.

     But Zeiss, Norman and Associate Vice President of Institutional Advancement Kevin McCarthy are staunchly undaunted. They remain positive and steadfastly focused on the mission CPCC adheres to for its students.


Art of the Sale

     Dr. Zeiss spends the majority of his time and energy generating funds for the school. And it’s safe to say that there isn’t a person who has encountered Tony Zeiss that wouldn’t say he’s a great salesman.

     “People say that and I take it as a compliment. But personally, I don’t see anything that needs to be sold. When we approach potential donors, we are simply offering people the opportunity to be part of something meaningful,” comments Zeiss.

     He offers by example the story of CPCC alum James White. “James bussed in to CPCC from a men’s homeless shelter and earned his GED. A while later, he got his two-year degree, and our counselors helped to find the financial aid for him to transfer over to             UNC Charlotte. From there, he received his B.A. and came back to CPCC to teach the class he first took from us. Now he is getting ready to receive his doctorate diploma.”

     “Now I ask you,” Zeiss declares intently, “where would James be today without CPCC?”

The CPCC Foundation fundraising team has used its success stories to demonstrate that a donation of any size can change the life of another. They offer stories about the mother who worked two jobs to feed her kids and is now a nurse, about the minimum wage worker who opened his own business, and about the displaced factory worker who learned a new skill set so that he could continue to feed his family.

     “Once people get a taste of what it is like to give something back, they keep coming back for more,” smiles Zeiss.


The Big Picture

     As Tommy Norman explains, CPCC plays an even larger role in the community: “Not only does CPCC change the lives of individuals, it also transforms what was thought to be a latent community landscape into an economic engine. By offering solutions for the underprivileged, education can stem the drain on social services and the inflow of people into jails, emergency rooms, and a lot of undesirable situations.”

     To this end, Zeiss, a self-proclaimed ‘anticipatory thinker,’ scrutinizes labor statistics and education data, and makes it a point to stay incredibly plugged in to the trends emerging on the labor front.

     “If there is an emerging industry and it looks like a good fit for Charlotte, we go out and find the money to get a program started.” This is not insignificant: new programs are funded in arrears by the state, so resources for any new course, instructor and equipment must be paid for up front by CPCC.

     Pursuing this strategy, CPCC has been able to introduce such programs as Integrative Systems Technology, Geospatial Technology, Gaming and Simulation, and Biotechnology. By staying current on emerging trends, CPCC can provide a strong pool of skilled workers for existing industries, as well as those looking to relocate or open a new facility.

     CPCC seems to have the formula for success. Take people off the street; reduce crime. Give them an education to improve their life, and that ripples into their family life, their children’s lives and future generations. Lessen the huge drain on social services, while simultaneously churning out much needed skilled workers to strengthen the economy.

      Yet, laments Zeiss, “We estimate that, of the people that filled out applications last year, 4,400 had to be turned away because they had no means to pay the $1,300 tuition. And that isn’t even accounting for people who thought that education wasn’t an option.” Norman echoes those woes: “It isn’t going to be long before CPCC hits 100,000 students, and we would like to be able to provide a solution for everyone who walks through the door.”

      Zeiss is more than complimentary of the efforts of all concerned: “Our staff, faculty and Foundation team have worked tirelessly toward the success of this campaign. We have a fantastic group of committed people dedicated to the greater good, and it is paying off. The generosity and spirit of the people of Charlotte also cannot be overstated. We are so grateful for the goodwill that our donors demonstrated with the success of this campaign, and for our generous employees who gave our mission a huge vote of confidence with their donations.”

      However Zeiss says he plans on keeping the gears oiled: “There are always more people coming into the community, new careers being created, new programs and equipment needed, and more learners to teach. We hope that the success of our message continues to reach the public, and that as the story continues to be told, people will believe that they too can become part of the purpose of CPCC.”

Susanne Deitzel is a Charlotte-based freelance writer.
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