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Stadiums Before Students?

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Businesses invest heavily in sports arena advertising but littlein education--then complain of an unskilled job pool.

Christina Schaller US HIGH SCHOOL AND COLLEGE GRADUATES are not prepared fortoday's job market. HR officers tell us so time and again, and tech companiessay they must continue outsourcing to foreigners because USstudents are deficient in technical skills as well as associated soft skillssuch as critical thinking and problem solving. So wouldn't it make sensefor businesses to work closely with schools, to supplement classroomstudies with internships or other programs designed to groom tomorrow'sworkforce?

Instead, companies seem to be supporting schools only in ways that guarantee them payback in advertising. For example, Rust-Oleum gave $100,000 to Vernon Hills High School in Illinois-for naming rights to its football field. ShopRite donated $100,000 to Brooklawn, NJ's Alice Costello Elementary School-for renaming its gym. In Grapevine, TX, companies supplement funds at public schools by paying for advertising space, not only at the school's stadium, but also on signs in the gym, over the school TV station, and on school buses. As critics point out, schools that make these deals are essentially forcing taxpayers to subsidize corporate advertising.

It particularly galls me that tech firms whining that there aren't nearly enough viable job seekers are doling out astronomical sums to connect their names with professional sports teams. Cisco Systems agreed to spend roughly $120 million over 30 years for the naming rights to the Oakland A's ballpark.

In a similar deal, Enron, known for its energy business but also a provider of broadband and online marketplace services, promised the Houston Astros $100 million over 30 years in exchange for seeing its name on their stadium. And in Oakland, Oracle is paying about $3 million a year for having its name on the Golden State Warriors' arena.

I'm not suggesting there is no value in supporting school athletics or advertising to a broad base-but why don't companies sponsor new computer labs or videoconferencing centers for schools…or competitive programs that reward students for academic merit…or mentoring sessions to teach real-world skills? If companies won't help prepare students, the resulting pool of prospective employees may not be to their liking.

- Christina Schaller, Managing Editor

This article originally appeared in the 05/01/2007 issue of THE Journal.

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