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Our View: FLC students win with local philanthropy

Nursing, business programs jumpstart workforce development

Fort Lewis College has been the beneficiary of much good fortune lately in the way of donation dollars.

Last year was a record year for philanthropy with FLC receiving around $17.1 million in private donations, including $1 million from Karen and Jerry Zink to partly fund a partnership between FLC and the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus for a four-year undergraduate nursing degree program. Rural and Indigenous health care perspectives will be its focus.

Additionally, Karen’s brother, Steve Short, former chairman of the FLC Board of Trustees, and his wife, Jane, are supporting the first student cohort with a $30,000 scholarship fund.

Then in October, FLC received its largest donation in the school’s history with Marc and Jane Katz giving $10.4 million to the college’s School of Business Administration. This gift creates an endowment, generating funds from investments to be used in perpetuity. Business leadership will come via an endowed professorship, a faculty and student development fund, and a student-run marketing agency.

These investments will pay dividends in the form of workforce development in the Southwest.

The beauty and commonality in these gifts – as well as multiple smaller ones – is local benefactors addressing longtime needs that matter to them. Rather than legacies, they will witness their contributions in action and benefits as they happen.

Having the nursing curriculum at FLC will improve diversity in the field as well as train culturally relevant caregivers for underserved populations. The U.S. Census shows that about 1.6% of the population identify as Native American, yet only .5% of nurses do. The need for nurses in rural areas far outstrips the number caring for patients.

The Katz program isn’t only on the receiving end of the family’s philanthropy. The program supports outcomes with economic growth grounded and seeded right here, then rippling outward through its students.

These private donations create unique and favorable circumstances, allowing this Native American serving college flexibility in spending the way it sees fit, rather than restraints that come with institutional and state funding. FLC can better evolve into the college its students want it to become, fine-tuning focus on the future.

Painful truths from the shameful history at the Fort Lewis Indian Boarding School in Hesperus are clear. Sometimes steps forward become apparent, too. In this case, it is in new nursing and business opportunities for students.

One perk of a campus with about 3,300 students is people know each other. They can name who is doing what research or creating hands-on learning opportunities. Along its learning curve, FLC administrators have leaned into their synergy. They’ve improved on how to tell the school’s stories, connecting interested donors with a dean, a faculty member, a staff member, a student.

Administrators are more exacting in matching potential givers with projects close to their hearts, whether bold or just practical. Donors on their own, too, make specific requests to support, for example, food security or reproductive health or puppy rescues, and tell administrators what they want done. They can see their impact directly, more than, say, a general donation toward a $3 million building at a large university.

FLC administrators have gotten better at asking, too, for what it needs. More follow-up, more pleasant persistence.

Another degree of closeness comes in the ratio between students and full-time professors, often as low as 12 to one. Students can’t hide or disappear. In this setting, they are more likely to say what they need from their school.

FLC is small, nimble and even scrappy enough to get things done. And for those questioning the cost of a college education, FLC’s value, diversity and lovely campus make the case that tuition, fees and time are well spent in Durango.

A good return on investment.

Local philanthropy is tremendous for FLC. It provides resources that reinforce the college’s commitment to Native American student success and well-being, included in its comprehensive approach to reconciliation. In real time.