Prior to the financial crisis and subsequent stock market swoon, the foundation gave generously to Detroit-area nonprofits, with its grantmaking in 2008 totaling $23.1 million. After auto sales slumped in 2009, however, the foundation cut its giving to $8 million, while its list of grantees shrank from seventeen pages to four.
But with auto sales beginning to recover along with the economy, the foundation has stepped up its giving, with a focus on education. In December, for example, the foundation awarded $27.1 million to the United Way of Southeastern Michigan to support efforts to boost high school graduation rates in the region, while in February it launched a $4.5 million national scholarship program designed to assist 1,100 college students, especially those interested in studying science, math, or engineering.
According to the Detroit News, the foundation's shift in focus mirrors that of other corporate foundations whose parent companies are emerging from the recession with a keen interest in education. "Education has always been a priority, but it's an even bigger priority [now] because everyone is worried about making sure we have a trained work force in Michigan that's prepared," said Council of Michigan Foundations president Rob Collier.
Indeed, the automaker will need a well-educated workforce if it is to be successful in the increasingly competitive global auto industry. "We don't want to be the generation that walks away," said GM North American president Mark Reuss, who also sits on the foundation's board. "This country simply can't afford to fall any further behind the rest of the industrialized world in educating its citizens."