The act, which was signed into law by Gov. Robert Bentley in March, allows employers to donate funds to the state’s career technical dual enrollment program beginning in January 2015. Donors can receive a credit for 50 percent of their contribution and can also direct up to 80 percent of their donation to a specific training program.
“I really believe that Alabama is seeing the dawn of a new age when it comes to dual enrollment and education,” said Dr. Mark Heinrich, chancellor of the Alabama Community College System. “Working closely with our associates at the Alabama Department of Education, we now will be able to significantly expand and accelerate the training of high school students for high-demand, high-wage jobs in our state.”
The dual enrollment program allows eligible students in grades 10 through 12 to take college classes and receive both high school and college credit.
Upon graduation, students may choose to either enter the workforce with the skills they have gained or continue their education at a community college or four-year institution.
Last year, less than $2 million in dual enrollment scholarships was awarded to 2,100 students across the state.
“With the new $5 million line item appropriation, coupled with the possibility of taxpayers stepping forward to fully fund the Alabama Future Workforce Initiative, we will be able to award career technical dual enrollment scholarships to over 10,000 students annually,” Heinrich said.
Dr. Tom Huebner, acting president of Bevill State Community College, announced that 1,166 local students have been dually enrolled since 2013. The most popular programs are drafting and design, welding and computer science.
Seth King, a member of the Walker High School Class of 2014, has been enrolled in drafting and design at BSCC for two years.
King has become proficient in professional drafting systems and participated in the NASA Moonbuggy Race and learned to develop architectural house plans. “I am graduating from high school with a clear career path and 33 credit hours toward certification in drafting and design with only five courses left to complete the program. Not bad for an 18-year-old high school graduate,” King said at Tuesday’s press conference, which was held at the BSCC Business Incubator on Industrial Drive.
Sen. Greg Reed said the new dual enrollment legislation was a “top priority” in the recent session.
He underscored the importance of the act by quoting a finding of the Alabama Industrial Development Board that the average welder in the state is 56.
“Think about the novelty of going to business leaders and saying, ‘What do we need to help create that you are going to be able to utilize in the workforce over the next few years? And if it’s important enough for you to give us some money to help with it, we are willing to give you a tax credit on it so that we keep you engaged,’” Reed said.
District 13 Representative Bill Roberts, an avid supporter of the legislation, told the crowd that “career tech is the future of Alabama.”
He shared the story of a young man he met recently who is interested in pursuing a career technical degree but needs guidance. “He didn’t take anything in high school in the career tech field. He said, ‘I think I want to be a welder, but I’ve never welded. I may be an electrician.’ If he had gone through this program, he wouldn’t have had those questions. He would have been able to work it out in high school,” Roberts said.
Mark Keller, president of Fontaine Trailer in Jasper, said two-thirds of his company’s employees are welders, assemblers and painters. Filling open positions has sometimes been a struggle.
“We need trained employees who can come in and go to work immediately. I believe the employees who come through these programs that we are developing are going to come right into our facility one day and go to work,” Keller said.