A Telecom Giant's K-12 Philanthropy Flies Under the Radar. Here's a Look

AT&T's Aspire Connect to Success Competition is all about finding programs with track records of success in motivating high school students to persist in school to graduation, preparing them for later success. Recently, AT&T selected 18 organizations to share in $10 million of grant funding for initiatives ranging from peer tutoring to comprehensive student supports and college preparation.

This is nice money if you can get it, and it's from a funder that we don't hear about much in the K-12 space. In fact, we've barely noticed any AT&T giving on any issue over recent years. Of course, being one of the largest corporations in the United States, AT&T does engage in quite a bit of philanthropy, with education as a top focus. You can see an overview of its ed initiatives here, although be forewarned: As with many corporate funders, it takes a bit of digging to get a fix on specific grant opportunities from AT&T. 

As you might expect from a telecom company, AT&T has an interest in supporting STEM education, as well as initiatives related to its expertise in technology. It's given large grants to Girls Who Code, Code.org, and Black Girls Code. It's also big into backing ed tech outfits, and has supported efforts to grant "nanodegrees," which are online certifications for tech jobs.

Youth career development overall is a keen interest for this funder, and last year it gave $2.2 million to Road Trip Nation, an organization that creates career exploration resources to help students explore pathways aligned with their interests. In 2015, this funder gave a $1 million grant to Year Up, which moves urban youth from poverty to professional careers in one year. That money is being used to launch the group's Dallas work. Other grant recipients last year included Teach for America. 

For the Aspire Connect competition, AT&T sifted through applications from hundreds of nonprofits before selecting the 18 recipients. The company funded the grant competition through AT&T Aspire, its signature philanthropic program. AT&T's Social Innovation and Philanthropy division views a high school diploma as a must-have for future success. The Aspire program identifies organizations that demonstrate success in moving the needle on high school graduation rates, especially for disadvantaged students.

A 2016 study by the America's Promise Alliance, a partnership backed by AT&T and a range of corporate and philanthropic funders, including State Farm, Boeing, and the Citi and Ford foundations, found that 20 percent of high school students do not graduate high school in four years. Gaps in high school completion rates are especially pronounced among low-income students, English Language Learners, students of color and students with disabilities. Students who take longer than four years to complete high school are far less likely to be college ready or to be prepared for careers.

RelatedMillions Have Been Given to Boost High School Graduation Rates.... And?

Recipients sharing the $10 million from AT&T include the YMCA of Greater New York which received $250,000 to expand Y Scholars, a college access and success program that works with underserved students in New York City. Family Connection-Communities in Schools is another recipient. The Georgia-based organization will receive $1 million to place site coordinators in three high-poverty high schools in Athens, GA, to provide schoolwide interventions, as well as targeted supports to specific student groups to increase achievement and graduation rates.

Since 2008, AT&T has put more than $200 million into programs aimed at increasing high school graduation rates. Past funding recipients under the Aspire program have demonstrated success in high school outcomes, according to a news release from the company. AT&T reported that, among 2014 funding recipients, participating students had higher attendance rates than their peers and were more likely to graduate on time.