At a Capitol Blue Room event, AT&T announces expansion of “Aspire” grant program to boost high school graduation, college and career preparation

A quartet of state leaders gathered today (Thursday, March 29) at the state Capitol Blue Room to announce that AT&T is launching a quarter-billion campaign aimed to boost high school graduation rates.

Oklahoma AT&T President Bryan Gonterman joined Governor Mary Fallin, Education Secretary Phyllis Hudecki and Higher Education Chancellor Glen Johnson to detail the program, a renewal and extension of a $100 million fund to provide grants and incentives from the AT&T Foundation to schools, universities, vocational technical programs and other organizations. 

The AT&T Aspire commitment is for $250 million over five years to finance “socially innovative” approaches to encourage high school success, college and career readiness and other programs aimed at students at-risk of dropping out of high school. Aside from the grants, per se, the company has involved many of its 260,000 employees in support of the Aspire effort. 

Organizations are encouraged to apply between now and April 18 to “pre-qualify” for grants. Requests for Proposals (RFPs) for the “Local High School Impact Initiative” are available at this site: www.att.comEducation,-news, (click then on the “Aspire Local Impact RFP” option.

Gonterman said, in response to a question from CapitolBeatOK, there has been national progress in using such programs to boost performance on ACT tests, and on graduation rates.  Asked if adult Graduate Equivalent Degrees (GEDs) were eligible, Gonterman said the pro-approval process is designed to answer such questions and work with applicants to strengthen presentations. 

ACT Test data for Oklahoma in 2010-11 showed the state’s students were, in summary, below the national average for most of the past two decades, and near the middle of the regional average in most categories. 

In Oklahoma, a successful model funded in recent years was a collaborative effort between Northeastern State University and the Fort Gibson Public Schools. Other Aspire programs have been supported in the Tulsa Public Schools, Oklahoma City Community College, Thunderbird Academy, the Blackwell Schools and others.

The Fort Gibson-NSU program created a Community Outreach Recruitment Effort (CORE). AT&T asserts a 50 percent increase in ACT scores for participants at Fort Gibson High. Superintendent Derald Glover credited the AT&T Aspire program for the improvements. Jerry Cook, of NSU’s University Relations program, said early analysis of the CORE program indicated “significant” positive results. 

Gov. Fallin commented, “Having a highly skilled and educated workforce is one of the keys to our state’s long-term economic success. Ensuring students graduate high school prepared to begin college or start a career will go a long way to helping us build the workforce we need to be competitive.”

Fallin said the Aspire program is a good fit with the “Complete College America” drive her administration is working with Chancellor Johnson to advance.  

Johnson said the new program will be incorporated into the Higher Education system’s drive nearly to double the number of annual college graduates. 

Attending today’s event to applaud the grant program were state Senators Harry Coates of Seminole, Josh Brecheen of Coalgate and Reps. Todd Thomsen of Ada and Steve Kouplen of Beggs.

AT&T Chairman and CEO Randall Stephenson had announced the extended commitment earlier this year at the second annual Building a Grad Nation Summit. He said the AT&T Aspire program aims at “an America where every student graduates high school equipped with the knowledge and skills to strengthen the nation’s workforce.”