Building a Stronger Ohio

Ohio’s Guide to Colleges & Universities: Ohio Foundation of Independent Colleges helps organizations address workforce needs

By Corinne Minard

Each year, the need for more Ohio talent grows. According to the report, Aligning Opportunities in the Northeast Ohio Region, which was prepared by Team NEO, to meet projected labor demand, 65% of Ohio’s workforce will need to have a 2- or 4-year degree, or certified marketable skill by 2025. As of 2021, only 38% of the state’s workforce had such a degree or certificate.

How does one go about addressing this? Companies, nonprofits and governmental organizations are implementing a variety of initiatives, but one nonprofit is working to help young Ohioans earn their degrees so they can meet that labor demand.

The Ohio Foundation of Independent Colleges (OFIC) supports the state’s independent colleges by connecting donors and partners with students in need so as to positively impact Ohio’s economic engine. The organization does this in a variety of ways, but one way is by helping companies and nonprofits sponsor scholarships for students who attend independent colleges.

One such organization is the Nord Family Foundation, which is based in Lorain County. A successor to the charitable trust established in 1952 by entrepreneur, industrialist and philanthropist Walter G. Nord, the organization’s mission is to advance equity, expand access to opportunity, and build thriving and inclusive communities.

“The foundation does this by awarding grants to nonprofit organizations via general operations, program-related activities, as well as capital projects. We fund in four different areas: arts and culture, civic affairs, education, as well as health and social services,” says Tina Kimbrough, the executive director of the foundation. “Since 1988, the foundation has given over $145 million to philanthropic and charitable endeavors that align with our mission.”

Tina Kimbrough, the executive director of the
Nord Family Foundation in Lorain County

One of those endeavors is a scholarship through OFIC. “We have a long history with OFIC spanning over 65 years, [first as a charitable trust, then as a foundation],” says Kimbrough. “The foundation itself started in 1988 and the first grant at the foundation was given to them in 1988.”

These funds have mostly gone toward scholarships for Lorain County students. They’re used to address what Kimbrough calls “gap funding”—the funds that may not be covered by other scholarships but are significant enough to possibly stop a student from attending college. Through the 2019-2020 academic school year, the Nord Family Foundation had sponsored a total of 487 scholarships to 282 individuals, 196 of which had graduated. In 2022, the foundation sponsored 30 scholarships, at about $3,000 each. Over the last 15 years, the foundation has granted nearly $1 million to OFIC to benefit students.

For Kimbrough and the foundation, the impact of independent colleges, particularly on students of color, first-generation college students and students of high financial need, is a powerful reason to continue supporting OFIC.

“When you look at the graduation rates for independent colleges versus the public institutions here in Ohio, their graduation rate is significantly higher for four years,” says Kimbrough. According to statistics from OFIC, 52% of its member-campus students graduate within four years compared to only 36% at public institutions. In addition, 38% of students of color graduate from OFIC campuses, compared to 29% at public institutions.

“[OFIC] students are graduating at a higher rate and students are tending to stay in Ohio, which is always helpful and just means a lot to us as a foundation,” adds Kimbrough.

OFIC has been key to helping the foundation make this scholarship happen, as the organization organizes the application process and sorts through applicants to make sure they meet the criteria of the company or nonprofit funding the scholarship. The criteria can include location, school or even fields of study.

“As a foundation, we’re really big on access to opportunities and building inclusive communities. OFIC does a really good job in making sure that all of our criteria is met. We focus on students with high financial need and first-generation students in Lorain County,” adds Kimbrough.

In addition to helping the foundation facilitate the scholarships, OFIC also assists those funding scholarships to connect with their scholars. The Nord Family Foundation, for example, hosts two annual dinners so they can meet their scholars in person.

“I wanted to meet with the scholars and to introduce myself and to offer assistance in any way I can,” says Kimbrough. “And so really just hearing what they were interested in and their goals so I could start to think about ways to engage the students in the community. I try to meet with the students twice a year to hear about all of their wonderful achievements.”

But OFIC is more than scholarships—it’s also helping companies and nonprofits establish internship programs. The Nord Family Foundation is taking advantage of this assistance and is in the midst of a pilot program to create a nonprofit internship program in Lorain County.

“We started the internship pilot project to support five nonprofit organizations in Lorain County and then to provide internships to five of our scholars who reside in Lorain County. Through this pilot, we are hoping students from Lorain County will get invaluable work experience while our nonprofit partners get an intern to help with capacity building,” says Kimbrough. “And the goal is to build the talent pipeline here in Lorain County. There’s a lot of opportunities here, but students might not know about those opportunities.”

With the help of OFIC, organizations like the Nord Family Foundation can take another step forward in addressing Ohio’s workforce needs, building a stronger and better Ohio in the process.