Spotlight on Baldwin County: Higher Education

Five higher education institutions offer academic and career programs in Baldwin County

Coastal Alabama Community College students and the college’s mascot.

Coastal Alabama Community College

Coastal Alabama Community College opened in Baldwin County in the early 1960s as Bay Minette Junior College. Over 60 years, several name changes, the addition of campuses and programs and continued growth, Coastal Alabama’s mission has remained the same — to invest in the success of all students.

Coastal has more than 10,000 students in its five locations in the county — 8,963 in credit programs and 1,617 in non-credit programs. Its annual economic impact is $310.3 million, supporting 4,667 jobs, according to the FY 2020-21 report.

Coastal’s main campus is in Bay Minette, where a new respiratory therapy class started this spring. In 2023, the campus also opened a new cosmetology lab and a medical assisting program. This campus also is home to nearly 500 residential students each year and is the largest campus in the Coastal Alabama footprint with more than 2,000 students attending classes in north Baldwin County.

At the opposite end of the county, Coastal Alabama’s Fairhope campus showcases its own flair through an active music program and the popular Live at Five concert series hosted at the college’s Halstead Amphitheater. The second largest physical campus of Coastal Alabama, this campus serves a critical need to the community through its historical facilities, many of which have undergone meticulous renovations. Healthcare programs, such as EMT/paramedic and nursing, and general studies remain popular educational tracks.

A few miles away, the Academy at the Fairhope Airport provides a technical training facility with stations for welding, airframe and powerplant courses and electrical/instrumentation. Dual enrollment and adult students take advantage of this site to prepare for jobs in south Alabama’s aerospace/aviation cluster.

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At the end of Highway 59, the Gulf Shores campus is firing up its industrial kitchen with a gourmet culinary arts program and a pastry baking program. Frederic’s Restaurant, showcasing the students’ work, is a popular destination.

The newest addition to Coastal Alabama Community College is the Foley Career & Technical Facility, located in the Baldwin Center for Business Development. The facility offers two new programs — building maintenance and a marine technology program offering Yamaha’s Introduction to Outboard Systems certification.

In addition, all campuses offer academic programs in preparation for transfer to a four-year institution.

United States Sports Academy

The United States Sports Academy in Daphne offers accredited bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees that prepare students for careers in the sports industry. Undergraduate students can study on campus, online or in a hybrid model, while USSA’s online graduate degree programs are designed for students around the world to boost their career potential at their own pace.

Working under the leadership of President Dr. Steve Condon since 2023, USSA launched scholarship programs and renewed its commitment to community involvement. USSA is adding baseball, softball, men’s soccer, women’s soccer, and track and field teams that will compete during the 2024-25 academic year.

USSA is also collaborating with Bishop State and Shelton State community colleges and other institutions to help their students complete their undergraduate degrees.

Finally, the university recently christened its Cronan-Summitt School of Sport Business — named after longtime University of Tennessee coach Pat Summitt and athletic director Joan Cronan — that provides business, management and leadership education to future sport professionals. The university is also working with the family of the legendary multi-sport athlete and Olympian Jim Thorpe to develop scholarships, educational programs and more.

University of South Alabama Baldwin Campus

At the University of South Alabama Baldwin campus in Fairhope, students get the resources of a large university with the benefits of an intimate campus setting.

The campus offers college courses, educational outreach, continuing and professional educational opportunities, and degree-completion programs. The Baldwin County campus serves more than 1,500 students annually, providing an expanded curriculum including bachelor’s degrees in interdisciplinary studies, communications and public relations, criminal justice and elementary education, as well as an accelerated nursing degree program. The campus also offers college courses that can be transferred to other degree programs.

Non-credit courses in foreign language and personal enrichment are also offered, along with continuing education and professional training opportunities. The Baldwin County campus founded and co-sponsors Leadership Baldwin County and partners with local and state organizations to offer conferences and non-credit programming.

The University of South Alabama also has a partnership in Baldwin County with Coastal Alabama Community College and other community colleges along the Gulf Coast, through Pathway USA, which streamlines the transfer process for community college students seeking a four-year degree.

Columbia Southern University

In 2023, Columbia Southern University in Orange Beach celebrated 30 years of operation. CSU offers associate, bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees, entirely online, including business administration, criminal justice, fire administration and occupational safety and health. The university has 1,000 employees.

This spring the university added a College of Education, with plans for undergraduate and graduate degree options.

Recently, CSU announced it has earned programmatic accreditation from the Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs that includes the school’s undergraduate and graduate degree programs in business. And in 2022, CSU achieved institutional accreditation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

CSU is constantly releasing new degree and certificate programs to meet industry and career demands. In 2023 alone, the school added more than 30 new academic programs.

Auburn University Educational Complex, Gulf Shores 

The Auburn University Educational Complex, which opened in 2018 in Gulf Shores, provides veterinary care, aviation instruction and research partnership opportunities for the region.

The centerpiece is the Auburn Veterinary Specialists referral center, a satellite of Auburn’s Small Animal Veterinary Teaching Hospital. The Gulf Shores facility currently offers ophthalmology, dermatology, internal medicine and surgical services. Fourth-year Auburn veterinary students participate in elective, two-week clinical rotations at the center.

Another key feature is the Auburn University Aviation Center, which hosts unmanned aircraft systems courses allowing students to prepare for careers in mapping and surveying, precision agriculture and public safety.

The Gulf Shores complex also works to promote regional economic development, offering space collaboration among business and industry leaders and Auburn experts. Focus areas include enhancing health and wellbeing, building resilient societies, shaping intelligent solutions and creating a more secure world.

This article appears in the May 2024 issue of Business Alabama.

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