A Raleigh couple who own a group of animal hospitals have given $3 million to N.C. State University to start a program to give rural students a better chance to win admission to the university and to afford it when they are.
Joseph K. and Deborah Kapp Gordon, both NCSU graduates, said that they wanted to help counter the effects of the economy, the rising cost of education and seemingly ever-tougher admission standards.
“N.C. State is a land-grant university, and land-grant universities were established for all the people of the state, not just the elite,” said Joseph Gordon, a veterinarian who graduated from the NCSU vet school in 1986.
Expanding access to higher education is a priority for President Barack Obama, and the Gordons’ gift comes just weeks after NCSU Chancellor Randy Woodson and his UNC-Chapel Hill counterpart, Carol Folt, visited the White House to brainstorm ways to make that happen. They and other university leaders in the meeting pledged to broaden access to low-income and under-served students.
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The new “Farm to Philanthropy” program’s first planned initiative will help rural students prepare for standardized college entrance examinations via an intensive test preparation course, including mentoring, through their county N.C. Cooperative Extension Service center. The method has already been shown to dramatically improve test scores after being tried with more than 230 students from 18 North Carolina counties, and the new funding will allow it to expand to more rural counties, university officials said.
High school students in North Carolina’s top agricultural counties typically score lower on college admissions tests, an obvious hurdle to getting into selective universities like NCSU.
A second initiative – Student Transfer Enrollment, Advising and Mentoring (STEAM) – will help students who start their education at a state community college or another university but want to transfer into NCSU. It will help their academic development and prepare them for an NCSU degree program. Those who complete it are guaranteed admission to the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences in their sophomore year.
Also, if they are willing to work to pay for their first semester at NCSU, students from the STEAM initiative can apply for scholarships that can help them graduate free of debt. NCSU estimates the total cost for in-state undergraduates at $22,954 a year.
Several NCSU graduates have come to work with the Gordons’ CareFirst Animal Hospital chain, and it has been painful to see the debt load that some carry, Deborah Gordon said.
“We have people who finished owing $100,000, and I can’t imagine how any young person can start out in life with that level of debt,” she said. “We are concerned that we are going to have the first generation that is less educated than their parents were.”
University officials said that they plan to seek matching gifts to grow the endowment.
Deborah Gordon said she hopes graduates of the program will “pay it forward” by donating some of the money they otherwise would have spent paying off loans to the scholarship program and that other alumni will join them. The Gordons also hope that it will be the inspiration for similar programs at other universities throughout the UNC system, she said.
Joseph Gordon started the chain of animal hospitals, located in Raleigh and Morrisville, in 1988, and Deborah Gordon is the administrator for the operation. He was student body president as an undergraduate at NCSU and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in animal science and a doctor of veterinary medicine degree; she double-majored in math education and computer science.
The idea for the gift and the program wasn’t hatched in some corporate boardroom or at the urging of a tax lawyer. Deborah Gordon said it sprang from a discussion with her hairdresser.
“We were talking with her about the tragedy it is about the high cost of education, and I said there’s got to be a way, if a student is willing to scrimp and save and rake leaves and babysit, or whatever, all through junior high and high school, that they could go to N.C. State,” she said. “That’s where this came from.
“We’re not finance people. We just care, and we want to make a difference.”