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Nabisco Pledges $4,000 in College Aid to Workers' Children

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The R.J.R. Nabisco Corporation has announced an education-assistance program that it hopes will break down the financial barriers to postsecondary education for the children of its 35,000 employees.

In addition, the package, announced last week by the snack-food and cigarette producer, is designed to help employees improve their own work skills and to foster parental involvement in schools.

The corporation has promised to help families save for postsecondary education by providing up to $4,000 per child in matching funds. For each year of high school the child completes, the employee may contribute up to $1,000 in pre-tax dollars to a deferred-savings account. The company will then match the contribution dollar-for-dollar up to the maximum.

In a letter to employees introducing the program, Nabisco's chairman, Louis V. Gerstner, called the initiative "a down payment on the future of R.J.R. Nabisco and the nation.''

Nabisco will also pay the 3 percent loan-guarantee fee charged parents for loans made under the federal Parent Loans for Undergraduate Study program and will subsidize interest expenses on PLUS loan payments up to $4,000 a year.

Nabisco estimates the tuition-assistance portion of its education package will cost the company between $5 million and $6 million annually.

The company's top 147 executives, however, will not be able to receive the matching or the loan subsidy. "We wanted to help out employees most in need,'' and not simply provide "a perk for senior management,'' Mr. Gerstner said in a statement.

School Involvement Rewarded

Also included in the financial-aid portion of the company's initiative is a partnership with CollegeCredit, the financial-aid division of the College Board. CollegeCredit will provide financial-aid information services to Nabisco workers, helping them locate additional grants and loans if necessary.

This will be the first time that employees of a large corporation will have access to the same information that college financial-aid officers use, according to Kathleen Brouder, a spokesman for the College Board's Scholarship Service.

Such a program is "a very good use of philanthropic dollars,'' according to Mary Leonard, director of precollegiate programs at the Council on Foundations. "It is strategic in that it tries to use some of the funds through the company plus access other sources of revenues,'' she said.

Several corporate executives and financial-aid experts noted last week that although many companies offer a limited number of competitive scholarships, they were unaware of any other major corporations that extend aid benefits to all employees' children.

In addition to the tuition-aid component, the plan also encourages Nabisco employees to become active participants in their local schools. Nabisco will award $2,000 Leadership Grants to schools where employees are working as "agents of change'' while serving on a parent-teacher association, board of education, or other similar group, according to Tracey Riese, a Nabisco spokesman.

The program also allows employees to take time off from work for a child's first day of school, to attend conferences with their child's teacher, and to participate in business or community partnership programs with schools.

In addition to helping employees' children, Nabisco will provide in-house training for employees as needed in reading, language, mathematics, problem-solving, computer literacy, management, and other job-related skills.

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