AT&T Inc. last week announced plans to commit $100 million over four years to help reduce the dropout rate in U.S. high schools and better prepare students for college and the workforce.
The effort is being billed as the company’s largest single philanthropic commitment to date.
The San Antonio-based telecommunications giant joins a growing group of foundations and corporations, as well as civic and education leaders, who have sought to combat the high dropout rates in many of the nation’s high schools. The effort also is among a number of recent announcements of major giving dedicated to a specific education issue by U.S. corporations.
“Obviously, the dropout crisis has significant implications for workforce readiness and the U.S. economy,” Laura P. Sanford, the president of the AT&T Foundation, said in an interview. “This is a tremendous loss of talent and capacity.… In equal measure, we are very concerned about the individual human impact.”
The “AT&T Aspire” initiative initiative will include four main components:
• Giving grants to schools and nonprofit groups for programs that help students stay in school and prepare for college and the workforce;
• Creating a companywide job-shadowing program to help 100,000 students;
•Commissioning national research to gather the perspective of school practitioners on how to address the root causes of and most effective solutions to the dropout issue;
•Helping to underwrite 100 state and community dropout-prevention summits organized by the America’s Promise Alliance, a national nonprofit organization based in Washington.
“It is certainly one of the largest single corporate gifts in recent years that I’m aware of in education,” Lydia M. Logan, the executive director of the Washington-based Institute for a Competitive Workforce, a nonprofit organization affiliated with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said of AT&T ’s plans. “You’re seeing more corporations do large-scale grants to narrower programs or issues.”
AT&T Inc.’s four-year, $100 million initiative aims to help reduce the number of high school dropouts. Some, but not all, of the money has been designated.
At least $50 million
• Competitive grants:
Districts, school foundations, and nonprofit groups can vie for grants of $50,000 to $100,000 annually to support “existing, proven high-school- retention programs,” or for one-year awards of $25,000 to $35,000 to build capacity to launch such programs.
• Student job-shadowing:
AT&T employees will be paired with 100,000 high school students to give the students a firsthand look at workforce skills, in a program run with the nonprofit Junior Achievement Worldwide, based in Colorado Springs, Colo.
• National research:
Commissioned study will explore the perspectives of practicing educators and school leaders on the high school dropout issue, in an effort led by John M. Bridgeland, a co-author of a 2006 report titled “The Silent Epidemic: Perspectives of High School Dropouts.”
• Dropout summits:
Will help underwrite 100 state and community dropout-prevention summits for school leaders, students, parents, civic leaders, and community and faith-based organizations, an effort organized by the nonprofit America’s Promise Alliance, based in Washington
The push to reduce the number of high school dropouts and prepare more students for college has gathered steam in recent years. Analysts say the Seattle-based Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has been especially influential in promoting the issue, both through its grant programs for high schools and in supporting public-awareness and public-policy work.
But other private foundations and corporations have also been engaged, including the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation, the Carnegie Corporation of New York, State Farm Insurance Cos., the Boeing Co., and the GE Foundation.
The GE Foundation, based in Fairfield, Conn., in 2005 announced a five-year initiative of grants to improve college-readiness in four school districts.
In another major education gift, the ExxonMobil Foundation in Irving, Texas, last year announced a commitment of $125 million to the National Math and Science Initiative, a nonprofit organization based in Dallas that aims to improve math and science education.
The largest portion of giving under the AT&T initiative will be for grants to schools and nonprofit groups. This will include gifts of $50,000 to $100,000 per year for up to four years for “existing successful high-school-retention programs,” said Ms. Sanford from the AT&T Foundation, as well as capacity- building grants of $25,000 to $35,000 for one year.
“It’s bringing in another major corporate partner to the high-school- reform effort,” said former West Virginia Gov. Bob Wise, the executive director of the Alliance for Excellent Education, a Washington advocacy group. “No doubt, you have job shadowing for 100,000, you make this kind of contribution, you’re going to raise the bar for everybody.”
Recent studies suggest that graduation rates are, at best, 70 percent nationally, and for black and Latino students, closer to 50 percent. Earlier this month, the America’s Promise Alliance released a report—produced by the Editorial Projects in Education Research Center with funding from the alliance and the Gates Foundation— that showed huge disparities in graduation rates in urban districts and neighboring suburban districts. (“States to Face Uniform Rules on Grad Data,” April 9, 2008.)
Editorial Projects in Education is the nonprofit corporation that publishes Education Week.
A version of this article appeared in the April 23, 2008 edition of Education Week as AT&T Commits $100 Million to Dropout Prevention