Chase Funds N.Y.C. Students

How can a giant financial institution help itself and make a difference in a city's education system?

Chase Manhattan Bank, one of the nation's largest financial institutions, is now expanding a scholarship program that its top executives hope will become a national model. In one of the most ambitious private scholarship efforts in the US, the bank is contributing full tuition and $500 per year toward books and supplies, plus part-time work at Chase during the school year and full-time summer employment for 40 students. In the next four years, the bank will provide $2 million in scholarship funds.

The idea began five years ago when Thomas Labrecque, president of Chase, and three of his top executives looked for a way they could become part of the solution to the city's education difficulties. Their answer, dubbed "Chase Smart Start," was a partnership with some of the Big Apple's colleges and universities, combined with work opportunities at Chase.

Initially, the bank decided to limit the program to Brooklyn, where it has a major operations and processing facility. But recently Chase decided to expand the program to include students in all five city boroughs and 10 of its institutions of higher learning. By 2000, Chase will fund 160 scholarships. The program does not single out the disadvantaged.

"I believe a community must have four things," says Mr. Labrecque, "education, jobs, housing, and quality of life." Without education, however, "you don't have any of those things."

The Chase effort is unusual. Jacqueline King, associate director for policy analysis at the College Board, a nonprofit education association, says the amount of scholarship aid offered by corporate America is "minuscule."

Second to Miss America

To date, she says, the largest of the corporate scholarship programs is the Miss America contest, which gives more than $30 million annually on the local, state, and national levels.

"The majority of the programs are small community based efforts where the kids with the best science grades get a check for $250," King says, adding that there is no way to calculate the total corporate effort.

Although other banks offer scholarships, Patricia Boerger, a spokeswoman for the American Bankers Association, says the Chase effort is the most ambitious. Typical is the scholarship deal offered by Comerica - a bank holding company based in Detroit - in partnership with the 14-member Michigan Colleges Foundation. The Detroit bank offers four scholarships worth $2,500, plus summer work and paid internships. "The purpose is to recognize promising youths who have an interest in banking and a career with Comerica," says Juliette Okotie-Eboh, vice president for civic affairs for Comerica Inc.

Educational endorsement

The Chase program garners praise from the academic field. "It is a good example for institutions, particularly in older urban areas where opportunities for higher education for low income groups have been shrinking," says David Merkowitz of the American Council on Education, an umbrella association for colleges and universities in Washington.

"It really does a very very good job of connecting ... theoretical knowledge that [students] learn in school to applied knowledge in the workplace," says New York schools Chancellor Rudolph Crew. He gets no argument from the Chase scholarship graduates. "It gives you a lot of maturity, and it gives you an edge to applying what you learn in school," says Parkinson Small, now in the Chase financial analyst program. Lisa Baccari, an accounting major at St. Francis College in Brooklyn, has worked in the Letters of Credit Department and is now in the Auditing Department. "I'm learning more about the field I hope to go into one day," she says.

Chase will hire a significant number of the students after they graduate. But even if the students are not hired by the bank, they view the experience as a positive step. "You have a lot of things to list on your resume," says Loc Khou, a graduate of Polytechnic University enrolled in Chase's information-technology program.

Dr. Crew would like to see the bank call in the city's corporate chiefs and set a target of 1,000 students. "They need to do it on a scale in keeping with the size of the graduating classes," he says. Lebrecque says he hopes the program will expand nationally.

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