Community College system moves forward



In March of this year, the Alabama Community College System took a giant leap forward when it brought on a giant in state government and one of Alabama’s preeminent leaders, Jimmy Baker, to be Chancellor.

When you have a conversation with Chancellor Baker, he uses words that you do not normally hear in the same sentence, like exciting and community college. He says it is an exciting time. For a myriad of reasons, across the state, community colleges and technical training have been viewed as second best when it comes to higher education options. Sit down with Chancellor Baker and you will leave convinced that Alabama’s community colleges can do more to move the state forward than any other entity in the state.

For an institution that in the past had a history of caring a lot about buildings, he is singularly focused on doing what is in the best interest of students. To him, that means an open door policy at every college across the system. Anyone looking to better themselves should be able to walk in the door and find opportunity at their local community college.

For some that opportunity looks like core academic coursework to transfer to a four-year or advanced degree at a fraction of the cost. For others that means stackable credentials and skills training to leave the classroom and step directly into a career. It could also mean general literacy and workforce skills or specific job training for a specific industry. The paths are as varied as the student population, which ranges from high school students participating in dual enrollment classes to adult learners who are seeking to advance their careers and everything in between.

The Alabama Community College System consists of 24 community and technical colleges residing in each of the state’s urban centers as well as rural locales across the state. Additionally, extensive workforce development training for Alabama business and industry through the Alabama Technology Network also resides within the system.

Baker argues that the system’s reach across the state and each college’s connection with their local community makes them the most adaptable, allowing each college to made adjustments based on the needs of their service area. Imagine if this were the case in every community: a new auto manufacturer announces 200 jobs in Anytown, Alabama and the local Anytown Community College is already working to adapt courses and training to ensure the workforce is ready.

Anyone familiar with Alabama realizes the dramatic change in the economy over the past half-century. Entire industries have disappeared, replaced with new technology based careers requiring a different knowledge base.

The System is committed to being part of the solution. Baker knows that means being honest with students about opportunities that are available and the education, skills, and training needed to secure them. The Alabama Department of Labor estimates that there are more than 14,000 industrial manufacturing and transportation job openings each year. The Alabama Community College System is addressing the issue head-on by partnering with the state to provide two certification programs that upon completion translate into a job in manufacturing or production. Alabama is the first state in the nation to roll out these certifications statewide.

The System also made headlines when it was selected as one of only six community colleges systems in the entire country by Apple, Inc. to launch a new app-development curriculum. Students who participate in the courses will learn coding and app development with Apple’s Swift programming language, preparing them for a wide variety of careers in our ever-increasing technology driven economy.

While workforce training is a key mission of the ACCS, equal to its focus is to provide Alabama students with the academic coursework they need to be successful. A great number of students come to the community college to take coursework to prepare them to transition to a four-year institution. These students are receiving the same quality of coursework and instruction as they would at other institutions but with smaller class sizes and less cost.

Over the past several years, thanks to support from the Alabama Legislature, dual enrollment has continued to expand across the state. Students can take courses and receive both high school and college credit. In many instances, scholarships or grant funds are provided so students are afforded this opportunity at no cost to them. Students who participate will not only graduate high school with college credits under their belt but they will also be more prepared for the rigors of college having already experienced a college classroom.


The gate is not full of horses

By Steve Flowers
We still have the culmination of the race for the seat of Jeff Sessions set to be determined in less than five weeks on December 12.  Roy Moore, as the Republican nominee, is the favorite.  However, the Democrat Doug Jones could make it a closer race than first thought.  He has raised some money and gained some traction and Moore has a good many detractors among Republican and independent voters.
   The 2018 races are looming on the horizon.  All of the horses may not be at the gate yet.  However, we are only seven months before the GOP Primary.  What at one time looked as though would be a titanic race for governor, may not be as good as first thought.  Governor Kay Ivey is in the catbird’s seat to win a four-year term of her own.  Huntsville mayor, Tommy Battle, appears at this time to be her most potent hurdle.  Birmingham evangelist, Scott Dawson, is poised to be a dark horse
   The Lt. Governor and Attorney General races appear to have the potential to be the most interesting races.  You will also have a donnybrook contest for Chief Justice of the Supreme Court between current Justices, Lyn Stuart and Tom Parker.  These two will square off in what will be a battle between the Republican establishment versus the Evangelical Tea Party Right.
   Secretary of State, John Merrill, will run for reelection to his office for a second four-year term.  He will be a prohibitive favorite to win reelection.  He is the best retail politician in the state.
   It is yet to be determined what State Treasurer Young Boozer or State Auditor, Jim Ziegler, are going to do in 2018.
   Boozer is term limited.  He will have served his two four-year terms.  He has to either run for something different or go to the house.  His wife, Sally, probably prefers the latter.
   Jim Ziegler can run for reelection as Auditor and that is probably what he will do.  However, he may opt for the Attorney General’s contest.  His name ID would bode well in that race.  Speaking of name ID, former AG Troy King is head and shoulders above the crowd if he were to run for his old job.  Currently, the field is made up of former U.S. Attorney, Alice Martin, Birmingham Attorney, Chess Bedsole, and Robert Bentley appointee, Steve Marshall.
   College football and politics are often compared. Florida Coach Jim McElwain found out quickly that losing three in a row can be a career changer.  Butch Jones at Tennessee is headed for the same fate.  But while winning and losing appears to make a real difference in competitive athletics, the same rule does not seem to hold true when it comes to the head job at the Business Council of Alabama.
   This past competitive legislative session, the BCA, under Billy Canary’s coaching, lost three in row, but Canary seems to be secure in his position.  BCA went into the session with three legislative priorities and they went 0 for 3.  Now, in competitive athletics, that will send you job hunting.
   AEA appeared to be dead and buried. However, AEA beat BCA in a head-on match this past legislative session and there is every indication that AEA is building a sizable war chest for the 2018 campaigns.  Right now, the AEA supporters have got to be cheering for Billy Canary and praying that the BCA will keep him on.  Same holds true for the state’s Trial Lawyers.  With Billy Canary calling the plays for BCA, the plaintiffs’ bar, AEA, and every other left of center group has got to be looking forward to the match up.
   There is another perspective that becomes particularly important in the 2018 election year.  With BCA’s record, recent controversies surrounding Canary and BCA, and Canary’s abrasive New York personality, who would want to be seen as part of the BCA team?  Veteran legislators and newcomers seeking office will quickly declare themselves free agents and will reject identification with BCA.
   Furthermore, why would anyone considering contributing to political candidates in 2018 and wasting their contributions by giving it through BCA?  It only makes sense to make contributions directly to candidates or through other PACs not affiliated with BCA.
   When a football team starts losing, it can take a long time to turn the record around but the first thing you do is fire the coach.  If BCA has any hopes of scoring victories in future legislative sessions or in next year’s political season, they better send a moving van to Canary’s house soon.

Alabama’s Silver Haired legislature



By Steve Flowers

With all the changes and uncertainty surrounding Alabama government in recent months, including political appointments, high level resignations, special elections, runoff elections and a host of new candidates tossing their names into the 2018 election circus, Alabamians might be relieved to know one thing remains steady and solid and many may never have heard of it – Alabama’s Silver Haired Legislature is one of Alabama’s crown jewels.
This illustrious and distinguished array of Alabama’s senior leaders will convene in Montgomery next week. This elected body of 105 members will meet to discuss issues related to seniors but in some cases, they may have positive impacts on the State in general.
Alabama’s Silver Haired Legislature has met now for 24-years. They have had a significant impact on Alabama Public Policy.
The idea of a body to represent seniors has been around the nation since 1973. Most states now have a Silver Haired Legislature. The idea of a senior legislative institution was created to educate older Americans about issues of local, state, and national concern.
The purpose is to insure that all 105 legislative districts have a senior legislator to mirror and provide some liaison with our 105 regular state legislators, assist them, and keep them apprised of senior issues that affect their constituents.
The Silver legislators serve as conduits between the state’s area agencies on aging, Senior Centers, nutritional centers and generally being the eyes and ears of seniors related to finances, education, recreation, health and wellness.
Unlike the regular legislature, the Silver Hairs body is unicameral and nonpartisan. They are from all parts of the state. The age requirement is that one must be over age 60.
They pass resolutions, not bills. Their nonpartisanship makes for a much more effective and harmonious legislative session than our regular legislature.
Many of these senior legislators have historically been an extremely experienced collection of retired state employees, educators, business people, judges, former legislators, mayors, and public servants. Many have been involved with governance at all levels.
Alabama is an aging state. By 2030 those age 60 and above will represent 27 percent of Alabama’s population. It is often overlooked, but this age shift is evolving. Currently it is estimated that nearly 20 percent of Alabama’s population is over 60. The fastest growing segment of our state’s population is our folks 70-85. Projections are at the next census one of every five Alabamians will be over 65. Therefore, it is apropos that we have a senior legislature of over 60 year olds looking after their interests.
They were at the forefront and subsequently were the reason that an Elder Abuse Statue was passed in the state. They were the first to address the issue of texting and driving. Legislation came out of that resolution. They have impacted the Medicaid budgeting problems and nursing home enhancements and regulations. They were the first to bring attention to the predatory payday lending business. They brought about public transportation for senior citizens who live in rural areas and small municipalities. They have sought assistance to better fund all Department of Senior Services.
Their current leadership is stellar. The Speaker of the House is Steve Griffin of Tuscaloosa. Winston Griggs of Headland is Speaker Pro Tem. George Boswell of Wetumpka is Secretary. Sandra Harris of Alexander City is treasurer. Other leaders who serve on the board and are legislative leaders are Mary Jo Martin of Demopolis, Dean McCormack of Tuscumbia, Warner Floyd of Montgomery, Homer Homan of Brundidge, Selena Daniel of Opelika, Carol Oden of Vinemont and Ann Holman of Dothan.

While much of the focus is on the younger generation, it will be those that have helped build the state who are quietly listening to the issues and helping plan the trajectory of state programs and politics who may actually have the loudest input at the ballot box and in helping shape the legislation that insures that Alabama remembers the needs of its seniors along with all of its citizens.