Imagine buying a new car and not being able to drive it because of a gas shortage. For the students of Victor Valley Community College in Victorville, California, that metaphor was unfortunately a reality. State education cuts had resulted in fewer classes for an increasing number of college students, forcing individuals who were pursuing their careers to be stalled in their academic progress, much like a vehicle with no gas.
Victor Valley College (VVC) currently receives state funding for 9,000 full time students, even though the college serves many more than that. As a result, more than 7,500 students were on waitlists for the Spring 2012 semester classes and most were not able to get at least one of the classes that they needed. In a community where a majority of the students are living in low income and/or minority households and education levels lag behind state and national averages, the college understands better than most that every class makes a difference.
Rather than simply succumb to the situation, several organizations within the school and community joined forces to devise a unique plan that would fuel the efforts to reopen these classes and help students advance toward their educational goals.
“We wanted to raise awareness of one of the biggest issues facing California residents and assist our students in the process,” explained Robert Sewell, director of Auxiliary Services. “As a result, we created the Campaign for Classes, a five week fundraising drive with the goal of raising $250,000 to open additional classes during the 2013-2014 school year.”
For each $5,000 raised, the college agreed to add one more class to help alleviate the frustration felt by students. That meant that, if the Campaign for Classes reached its goal, the school would benefit from 50 additional classes, supporting approximately 1,500 students.
With that goal in mind, planning for the Campaign kicked into high gear. The centerpiece event was "Auto Occupado,” a 37-day, round-the-clock occupation of a new car to demonstrate the stalling effect of state budget cuts.
“We approached local car dealerships and explained the challenges our students were facing and the goal of our campaign,” Sewell said. “It didn’t take much convincing; we basically just explained how important education is to our community and asked them to be our partners in the initiative. They were eager to help and agreed to provide 5 cars, complete with Campaign for Classes logos, for Auto Occupado.”
Valley Hi Auto Group, which includes Honda, Nissan, Kia and Toyota/Scion, partnered with the VVC Foundation to provide a new vehicle on campus every week, and generously pledged $20,000 to the cause.
With their support, the event revved up on Wednesday, May 1 when the first vehicle was parked on campus. From that point on, a vehicle was continuously "occupied" by a student, staff, faculty person, administrator or member of the community 24 hours a day, seven days a week, for the entire five weeks, equating to 888 hours of "sit-in" demonstration! This unprecedented display of dedication served as a compelling call to action for community members to donate $10 or more in order to supplement the diminished funding.
Volunteers could choose to take an hour, a half a day or sponsor a full 24 hour period for a $240 donation to show their commitment to the cause. Many planned creative activities or offerings related to their business or group during their time in the car. A live webcam feed gave the public a peek into how these volunteers passed the time, generating further publicity.
“We had an extensive social media effort to keep the public engaged with the efforts, as well,” Sewell added. “Viral marketing really took off and made a big impact on the final outcome.”
Other events were also planned in proximity to the cars. Local radio stations came out to broadcast from Auto Occupado, a BBQ was held, Relay for Life activities took place, free pizzas were served from the trunks of the cars and more.
One car was even filled with textbooks, which were donated by MBS, to create an interactive contest.
“Attendees could guess how many textbooks were in the car for a chance to win an iPad,” Sewell described. “MBS donated over 15 cartons, so it was filled from floor to ceiling!”
Each Wednesday, a new car was brought in for the occupation activity. To keep interest alive, Sewell and the Foundation came up with outrageous ways to deliver the keys.
“One week, they were escorted in by a marching band that paraded the vehicle to its new location,” he said. “Another key was delivered by skydivers who landed on the football field and drove the car to the Student Activities Center, which was Campaign Headquarters.”
Funds were sourced through a Text to Give initiative in which community members could donate $10 by texting a specific code to a designed number, payroll deduction, as well as online and in-person donations. A Campaign Calling Crew was also established to reach out to local residents. Volunteers were equipped with scripts and asked to engage in phone outreach from their own home or office.
Through these combined efforts, the college received support from around the country with contributions pouring in from faculty, staff, administrators, trustees, students, community members, statewide leaders, and even people who worked for other colleges. In fact, just one week into the Campaign, they had received commitments for nearly $80,000, funding 16 courses.
By the end, it was easy to see that the Campaign for Classes was undoubtedly a success. By raising $100,000, the college was able to open 20 additional classes, 14 of which began last week, allowing hundreds of students previously stuck on wait lists to secure a spot. The remaining Campaign for Classes funds will be used to add classes in the Spring 2014 term.
“I think it really brought a sense of camaraderie and awareness to our community,” said Sewell. “We were able to band together for a common cause as students, faculty, staff, administration and community members and really focus on what’s important. It was an amazing experience, to say the least!”