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RAND Weighs Takeover of Aid Council's Work

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The RAND Corp. this week will consider a proposal to absorb many of the functions of the Council for Aid to Education.

The 43-year-old council, which tracks private contributions to K-12 and higher education, has been considering merging with another group or shutting down altogether because of its lackluster fund raising and a shakeup in its leadership, observers say.

If the board of trustees of RAND, a Santa Monica, Calif.-based think tank, approves the proposal, RAND's Institute on Education and Training would oversee the new entity created by the merger, according to Roger Benjamin, the institute's director.

Though the institute is in Santa Monica, the council likely would maintain its offices in New York City, he said.

Questions About Leadership

In recent months, the council's staff has dwindled. Its president, Judith S. Eaton, left in July to become the chancellor of the Minnesota college and university system, and Priscilla Lewis, the vice president for publications, left in July to join the Rockefeller Brothers Fund.

Last month, Diana Rigden, the council's vice president for precollege programs since 1987, resigned to direct the teacher education program at the Council for Basic Education in Washington. None of those positions has been filled.

The council was founded in 1952 by the chairmen of the Standard Oil Co. (now Exxon), General Motors, and U.S. Steel corporations to advise business leaders on philanthropic support of K-12 and higher education.

It is known for its data collection and research, in particular its annual Voluntary Support of Education Survey, which tracks private giving to higher education and independent schools. (See Education Week, Sept. 28, 1994.)

A series of publications by Ms. Rigden on the role of businesses in school reform also are well-regarded.

In recent years, about 200 companies have provided financial backing for the council's work each year. The council also generates revenues through its publications, survey research, and fund-raising analyses it conducts for universities and has a current yearly budget of about $1.2 million.

In recent years, financial support has declined somewhat and the council increasingly has had to dip into its reserves.

But at the heart of the group's troubles, some observers contend, has been the failure of its board of trustees to provide effective leadership.

"They really made no effort to give any sort of vision or even advice," one insider said. "They were very poor board members."

And, over the summer, Ms. Eaton's departure created "an opportunity to re-examine things, and there was just not the momentum to go forward," another observer said.

Some said board Chairman Harold MacGraw Jr., the retired chairman of McGraw-Hill Inc., appears to be tired of the organization. "When Judith decided to leave, he kind of threw up his hands," said one observer.

But others pointed to board members as the problem. One corporate-philanthropy executive said: "I am not sure that Harold MacGraw has lost interest in these issues, but it certainly is true he hasn't been getting as much support as he needed from the companies and universities on the board."

Mr. MacGraw could not be reached for comment last week.

Changing Market

Inside observers said that the council has failed to scrutinize the changing needs of its market and that other organizations, such as the New York City-based Business Roundtable, are providing some of the same services, leaving the council with no clear niche to fill.

Ed Ahnert, the president of the Exxon Foundation, said, "Smaller companies whose education philanthropy is not quite as complex may not see the need to support an organizations like the council."

Moreover, in an era of corporate cutbacks and downsizing, he said, business leaders are under pressure to justify every dollar they spend, and contribution budgets are no exception. Unlike a model project or building that can be named after a company, grants to groups like the council generate little in the way of public recognition.

If the council were dissolved, it would be a significant loss for the business community, said Christopher T. Cross, the president of the Council for Basic Education.

"They have provided some considerable wisdom to guide companies in their philanthropic investments, and they really did some excellent work in K-12," he said. "It would create a definite vacuum in terms of providing high-quality advice and perspective."

Mr. Ahnert said: "We have relied on the council for data and as a sounding board for a long time. If they are not there, we will miss them. But if the same work, of the same quality, is being carried out in other places and with the same accessibility, I don't think there will be any loss."

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