Coca-Cola Joins Growing List of Education Benefactors

By Ann Bradley — November 15, 1989 5 min read

In the second announcement of a multi-million-dollar corporate commitment to education in two weeks, the Coca-Cola Foundation said last week it will donate $50 million to schools and other educational institutions over the next 10 years.

The previous week, the RJR Nabisco Foundation announced plans to spend $30 million over five years on a project to encourage schools to “take risks” with restructuring. (See Education Week, Nov. 1, 1989.)

The long-term commitment of such substantial resources, observers said, signals a growing awareness by the business community that it will take many years to bring about a dramatic improvement in the education system.

“These grants are designed with a clear appreciation of that,” said Robert C. Holland, president of the Committee for Economic Development. “It’s a very good sign.”

In addition to the latest initiatives, educators over the past year have received pledges of $35 million from the General Electric Company and $25 million from the International Business Machines Corporation to support reform efforts.

Secretary of Education Lauro F. Cavazos last week praised the “extraordinary contributions” of Coca-Cola and RJR Nabisco, saying they illustrate that “addressing the need for reform in education is everybody’s business.”

“Coca-Cola’s emphasis--on literacy programs, minority education and faculty development, and leadership training for teachers--is right on target,” the Secretary said in a statement, “as is RJR Nabisco’s strong support for badly needed demonstrations in nontraditional learning programs.”

The Coca-Cola Foundation will award grants totaling at least $4 million to programs selected on an annual basis, company officials said. In addition, the foundation will commit all of the money generated by its endowment, which represents another $10 million, to education.

“We think that is a statement of the importance of improving education,” said Mark Preisinger, a spokesman for Coca-Cola.

“Without trying to sound self-serving, improving education is definitely a good investment for business,” he added.

The Coca-Cola Company historically has allocated about one-third of its annual charitable giving for education, Mr. Preisinger said. The new commitment, however, represents “more than half of our total giving,” he said.

The company has not determined how much of its annual contribution will go to precollegiate education, Mr. Preisinger said.

Among the first grants announced were the following:

$5 million to historically black colleges and universities in Atlanta, the company’s headquarters.

$2 million to the University System of Georgia to improve public elementary and secondary education in the state.

$2 million for Hispanic family-literacy programs in Texas, California, and Florida.

$360,000 for a pilot program, Atlanta Peer Group Connection, which assigns seniors as mentors to freshmen in 11 Atlanta high schools.

The company was also prominently linked to support for education when Robert Woodruff, then chairman emeritus of Coca-Cola, donated $105 million to Emory University in 1980. The gift, which represented the assets of the Emily and Ernest Woodruff Fund, was the largest single gift ever made to higher education in the United States.

Corporate contributions to education, currently $2 billion annually, have more than tripled over the past decade, totaling $13.4 billion for the period, according to the Council on Aid to Education.

Although the bulk of that money has gone to colleges and universities, precollegiate education’s share has increased by almost 50 percent during the same period, from 6 percent of the total to nearly 9 percent, said Paul R. Miller, vice president of the council.

The increased corporate interest in elementary and secondary education also is reflected in grants to colleges to improve teacher training, Mr. Miller noted.

“The corporations are encouraging the colleges to help the schools too,” he said.

The i.b.m. grant program, for example, is designed to bolster teacher training in computer-based instruction and encourage innovation in the use of educational technology.

The company has said it expects to make as many as 70 grants to teacher-training institutions and another 10 to partnerships between school districts and schools of education. Risk-Taking Encouraged

Both the RJR Nabisco and General Electric grants are aimed at improving public K-12 education. For instance, RJR Nabisco plans to provide three-year grants of up to $250,000 a year each to schools that agree to explore innovative ideas for reform.

The company hopes the schools will become “laboratories for change,’' said Louis V. Gerstner Jr., chairman and chief executive officer.

General Electric’s $20-million “College Bound” program, announced last November, is aimed at doubling the number of students from inner-city high schools who go on to college.

Over the next five years, the company will give between $750,000 and $1 million each to schools in Albuquerque, N.M.; Cincinnati; Louisville, Ky.; and Milwaukee that have been chosen to develop their own improvement plans.

The company will expand the program each year to three to five additional cities where General Electric has a large number of employees.

General Electric has asked its employees to become involved with students at the schools as mentors, role models, and tutors.

“We believe school reform really has to be school by school,” said Phyllis McGrath, manager of the College Bound program. “We’re saying, ‘Take some risks with our money that perhaps you can’t take with our own.”’

The company also will spend at least $15 million over the next decade to increase the number of female and minority students and teachers in schools of engineering, physical sciences, and business.

The new corporate grant programs are “better focused” than traditional business-education partnerships, according to Esther Schaeffer, senior vice president for policy at the National Alliance of Business.

Instead of responding to specific requests from schools, companies now are becoming more aggressive in their involvement, she added.

“It’s a little bit of a role reversal,” Ms. Schaeffer said, “in that business is going to the schools with an agenda and wanting to figure out what needs to be done.”

A version of this article appeared in the November 15, 1989 edition of Education Week as Coca-Cola Joins Growing List of Education Benefactors