Another Billionaire With an Eye on the the Nexus of Tech and Education

James Coulter is a founding partner of TPG Capital, with headquarters in San Francisco. The firm posted assets of some $74 billion recently. The 55-year-old Coulter, meanwhile, is worth $2.2 billion. He and his wife Penny don't yet appear to have a charitable vehicle, but have been engaged in philanthropic and civic work in San Francisco and beyond.

A major interest of the couple is education, and Coulter was recently honored for his work by Common Sense Media, a group founded by Jim Steyer which focuses on “digital citizenship” and provides educational programs for kids free of cost, usually operated through local schools. Steyer, by the way, is the older brother of Thomas Steyer, whom we've written about before.

What has Coulter's work in education involved so far?

Well, the older Steyer, along with Coulter, and Columbia University President Lee Bollinger co-chair LEAD Commission, which studies how digital technology can improve schools. LEAD Commission analyzes the ways in which technology is currently being implemented, "determining which barriers are inhibiting greater usage, and recommending specific actions to accelerate adoption." One report, which involved LEAD Commission as well as Alliance for Excellent Education, determined that African American, Latino, low-income, and rural students are more likely to be in schools with slow Internet access (10 Mbps or less) than their peers and less likely to be in schools with the fastest-advertised Internet (100 Mbps or more).

Some of the other issues LEAD Commission aims to tackle include:

  • How teachers are being trained to make the most effective use of technology in the classroom
  • What national, state, and local governments could do to accelerate the adoption of established digital innovation
  • Which subjects (math, science, language etc) or levels (e.g., high school) would benefit most from incorporating digital schools, and under what approaches

When accepting his Common Sense Media Educational Leadership Award, Coulter said that “the most important content area in our country is education, and somehow technology has barely scratched it… it’s not fair to not give teachers what they need for personalized learning… it’s not fair not to arm 21st century kids with the tools to solve 21st century problems…"

Add Coulter to a growing list of funders interested in harnessing technology to improve educational outcomes. Apart from this work, Coulter sits on the board of trustees of Dartmouth and Stanford (his alma maters), and his wife Penny is on the board of San Francisco University High School.

Coulter and Penny have also supported entrepreneurship, particularly in Penny's hometown of New Orleans.  Some of the work the Coulters have done in this area involves the Idea Village, "whose mission is to identify, support, and retain entrepreneurial talent in New Orleans." During New Orleans Entrepreneur Week, Coulter has run the Coulter IDEAPitch, a competition for New Orleans start ups to meet with investors in Silicon Valley.

The couple has given recently to outfits such as San Francisco Film Society, SFJAZZ, where Penny recently chaired the 2015 SFJAZZ Gala, and the Tipping Point Community which fights poverty in the Bay Area. Sums have also gone to environmental outfits such as Audubon Nature Institute, Grand Canyon Trust, and, which is "devoted to cultivating the field of public markets for public good, establishing and managing farmers markets as flagship institutions with positive economic, social, and nutritional impacts in the Greater New Orleans region."

This is a couple to keep an eye on for greater giving down the line.

Related: James Coulter Profile