How Jim Goodnight Plans to Fix the Economy

It's not a stretch to say that James Goodnight, the CEO of tech giant SAS, believes in the power of education. (See James Goodnight's IP profile.) Goodnight points to education as the key to long-term economic growth, and he hopes that upgrading the nation's education system through technology will improve teaching, learning, and administration and keep the education system fresh and vital for the 21st century and beyond.

Like many tech giants, Goodnight has made a significant commitment to higher education. Over the years, he's supported his alma mater, North Carolina State University, to a significant degree — having given $5 million to the William and Ida Friday Institute for Educational Innovation, another $2 million to help develop the school's new graduate business degree program for analytics, and a software grant of $1 million to the university.

But his donations to higher education are dwarfed by his commitment to K-12 education reform. This commitment is based on his belief that proper preparation for college and work in the 21st century is how the United States succeeds economically. The commitment started with Goodnight's establishment of the Cary Academy in 1996. The academy is a model prep school for grades 6–12 that attempts to effectively integrate technology into every aspect of its curricula. This approach helps students not only learn the basics that all high school students must learn but also become comfortable with and use technology. Every student is issued an iPad (in the past it it was laptops), and the school's curricula are designed to make the best use of the technology. A number of North Carolina high schools have adopted the Cary Academy model as part of a pilot program. The participants include many schools in low-income and traditionally underserved communities.

SAS Curriculum Pathways is another Goodnight creation. (See IPs profile on the SAS Institute.) Developed as a new branch of his company, it produces teaching courseware and other educational technologies that are available nationwide via the Internet. The hope is that making materials that meet national standards available to schools via the Internet will help students in schools that are traditionally underfunded gain some ground through technology. As of 2012, nearly 19,000 schools nationally, including virtually all high schools in North Carolina, had registered for the product. The rollout was so successful in high schools that the company expanded its offerings to middle schools last year.

Goodnight's commitment to K-12 education is all over his education philanthropy and the causes he supports. In addition to serving on a number of boards that work to develop new education standards in the areas of science and math, he's also hosted events, such as the Algebra Readiness Summit, that bring together nationally recognized experts in math instruction to develop online math courses which are made available to schools for free. And he puts a lot of money behind these initiatives.

He's donated $50,000 worth of laptops to high schools, but he's also contributed nearly $2 million in cash and nearly $250,000 in surplus computer hardware. In 2006, Goodnight and his wife led the effort to pass the largest school construction bond proposal in Wake County, North Carolina's history: $970 million to build 17 schools, renovate 13 others, and repair another 100.

If Jim Goodnight has anything to say about it, K-12 education will use technology to make our education system better than ever.