WASHINGTON — The Annenberg Foundation has withdrawn its support from a $150-million project that since 1984 has provided courses for academic credit over public and cable television channels to many of the nation's colleges and universities.
The Philadelphia foundation, created by former ambassador and publishing magnate Walter Annenberg, had pledged $150 million in 1981 to the Corp. for Public Broadcasting to fund a variety of high-technology educational ventures. The corporation has received $90 million of it thus far.
Most of the money, which was to be provided in $10-million increments over 15 years, was used to generate televised college courses carried by PBS affiliates and the Learning Channel cable network across the country.
Some 2,000 of the nation's 3,000 colleges and universities are using the TV classes or course materials supplied by the Annenberg CPB Project, according to project officials. About 700 institutions allow students to watch the programs for college credit, and more than 125,000 students have particpated so far.
"Obviously, I was surprised and concerned," CPB President Donald Ledwig said Thursday.
Ledwig said he was notified of the foundation's action in a Jan. 2 letter, which stated without elaboration that an Internal Revenue Service ruling had changed the foundation's tax status. He said that the ruling apparently reclssifed the foundation from educational to private, prompting the withdrawal of funds at the start of the CPB's fiscal year.
"We need to know more," Ledwig said. "That's why we're calling a meeting with them (foundation officials)."
Ledwig would not speculate on the future of the project, which has $50 million in programs in the works that are expected to be shown through 1993.
"We want to continue talking with this source of funds (Annenberg) before we look to other sources of funds," he said.
Officials at the Annenberg Foundation declined to comment on the reason for its abandonment of the project, and Annenberg attorney William Henrich could not be reached for comment.
It was not known whether the reported change in the foundation's tax status will affect any of its other charitable activities.
The Annenberg CPB Project, intended to give more people access to a college education, has provided some of public television's more popular educational programs, such as the recent "Art in the Western World" and "War and Peace in the Nuclear Age" series.
"And the list goes on and on," said project director Mara Mayor, who noted that "anything's possible" now that the project has lost its principal source of support. "This project was created by Annenberg," she said.
The Annenberg grant produced programs viewed by 5 million to 7 million people each week, according to Mayor.
Half of the Learning Channel's telecourses are supplied by Annenberg, said Patty McNeil, assistant director of corporate communications for the cable network.