Why Software Companies Are Giving Colleges a Fortune…in Software

Software companies have been pouring hundreds of millions of dollars worth of free product into community colleges and universities in recent months. The latest in-kind donation is software from Siemens to Massachusetts schools valued at $660 million.  

The in-kind donation from Siemens was the biggest from a single company in recent months, but not the only one, even from that company. The German electronics giant gave nearly $67 million worth to an Ohio community college, and another $85 million worth to Florida A&M in February. Software company PTC donated software licenses and online training worth $24 million to the Florida Institute of Technology. 

The reason behind this generosity has everything to do with the American manufacturing industry, and the fact that jumpstarting it these days requires not just bodies and training, but the right technology. Siemens’ giving, for example, has been part of a program it calls “Manufacturing a New Middle Class: A Software Revolution.” The industry has been a big priority for the Obama Administration, which announced in February that companies like Adobe and Prezi have given more than $400 million of software to schools. 

The schools have been extremely grateful to the companies, and for good reason, since technical schools and their graduates will be especially underprepared without access to industry-standard product. It gives them an edge, as students will be able bring their product designs into practice, training on platforms they would likely be using once they graduate and get jobs in manufacturing. Professors have called the donations "transformative."

The benefit for the companies is also significant. 

For starters, what they are giving away here is not stacks of crisp bills, but rather permission to use proprietary, pricey software and training materials. They are basically inviting the next generation to learn how to use their products at no charge, which many will then presumably go on to use in private sector settings. 

Consider where the donations are being made, such as the PTC donation in Florida. The Massachusetts-based company has large manufacturing clients based in the area. Building up the future STEM workforce is a common cause in corporate STEM philanthropy, but these gifts are examples of companies going one step further, enabling schools to train their students in specific skills that are directly and explicitly connected to their business. It speaks not only to the changing nature of middle-class jobs, but also the new ties between the private sector and educational institutions.