March 22, 2000 2 min read

Digital Donation: Three leading technology companies will donate $130 million in computer equipment to the United Negro College Fund’s technology campaign in an attempt to eradicate the “digital divide” between minority students and their white classmates in higher education.

The AT&T Corp., the International Business Machines Corp., and the Microsoft Corp. will give away computers, software, system upgrades, and technology support to 39 private, historically black colleges and universities over three years, the fund announced this month. All the institutions are affiliated with the UNCF, a Fairfax, Va.-based consortium that aids African-Americans in higher education.

The gifts “will enable us to provide our institutions with the latest technology platforms and put personal computers in the hands of every student,” William H. Gray III, the president and chief executive officer of the fund, said in a statement following the announcement of the gifts. Only 15 percent of students at the 39 institutions have their own computers, according to the fund, compared with nearly 55 percent of all college students nationwide. Moreover, the institutions receiving the gifts have only half the number of computer servers of other colleges and universities, the UNCF says.

“The digital divide in higher education is greater than the digital divide among the nation’s households,” Mr. Gray said.

IBM’s contribution will include an “e-business” World Wide Web site in which students, professors, and administrators can collaborate on projects and purchase computer equipment at discounted rates, according to the fund.

In addition to its contribution of equipment, AT&T will donate $1 million to the project.

The donations are “extraordinary,” said Alan Kirschner, a senior consultant for the UNCF who also raises money for other education groups.

They are also indicative of a broader trend, he said. Corporations began substituting computer equipment in place of cash gifts over the past five years, Mr. Kirschner said. “Many tech companies are seeing this as more of an investment than a contribution,” he said. “By establishing relationships with higher education, [companies] are creating a culture [for] their product.”

For example, he said, students who spend four years working with Microsoft products in college become comfortable with the company’s system and are more likely to purchase Microsoft software for their homes or use it in their future workplaces.

—Julie Blair

A version of this article appeared in the March 22, 2000 edition of Education Week