Spotlight on Etowah, St. Clair & Blount: Higher Education

Four institutions of higher learning provide certificate and degree options for area residents

Gadsden State serves students from Calhoun, Cleburne, Etowah, Cherokee and St. Clair counties on five campuses. The Science Building, on the East Broad Campus in Gadsden, is the college’s newest facility.

Gadsden State Community College

Since 1925, Gadsden State has been instrumental in the education and training of Alabama’s workforce. It is a public, open door, comprehensive community college comprised of five campuses in Etowah, Calhoun and Cherokee counties. Gadsden State has an enrollment of more than 4,000 students who can choose among more than 70 academic, career technical, health science, adult education and skills training options.

The college is always exploring new program options. Most recently, Gadsden State opened a dental science program with the first class of dental assistants beginning their training in January at the Valley Street Campus in Gadsden. Students are trained in clinical and administrative tasks that can be used in dental offices and dental supplier firms, and they can earn a certificate or an associate in applied science.

Dual enrollment for high school students has been growing, increasing by 57% since 2020.

Gadsden State is the only community college in the state to offer civil engineering and court reporting. It is also the only college in Alabama that offers a comprehensive diagnostic medical sonography program that covers abdomen, small parts, obstetrics-gynecology and vascular in one associate degree program.

In 2022, Gadsden State announced that it will construct a 50,000-square-foot Advanced Manufacturing Center on the East Broad Campus in Gadsden. The facility will provide work and training space for students aiming for high-tech careers, with programs in mechatronics, industrial automation, precision machining, mechanical design technology, additive manufacturing and electronics engineering.

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Gadsden State continues to provide services to help students achieve academic success. In 2022, Gadsden State was notified by the U.S. Department of Education that a grant renewal worth more than $1.6 million over a five-year period was approved for the Veterans Upward Bound program. VUB is designed to help veterans meet their academic and career goals with the help of advising, financial aid and more.

Gadsden State has increased its array of athletic programs to include men’s and women’s cross country, baseball and softball. The cross-country teams began in September with the women’s team qualifying for competition at the National Junior College Athletic Association Division II Cross Country Meet. The college will field baseball and softball teams in the fall bringing the total of sports teams at Gadsden State to seven.

University of Alabama Gadsden Center

The UA Gadsden Center is a division of the University of Alabama’s College of Education. The UA Gadsden Center is the home of the Alabama Expanded Learning Alliance, a statewide out-of-school-time resource network throughout Alabama.

A student graduates from Jefferson State Community College.

Jefferson State Community College — St. Clair-Pell City Campus

For almost 60 years, Jefferson State Community College has offered excellence in education and value. Today, Jefferson State has four campuses and serves more than 13,000 students in St. Clair, Jefferson, Shelby and Chilton counties. Jefferson State is the largest community college in central Alabama.

Jefferson State generates a major economic boost for central Alabama, adding more than $486 million annually in income to its service area.

Approximately 65% of Jefferson State students transfer to a four-year university. Jefferson State offers more than 116 transfer programs, 39 career and technical education programs, 30 non-credit fast-track programs, and more than 60 dual enrollment classes. Jefferson State has numerous agreements with four-year universities to help students transfer with ease.

About one-fourth of Jefferson State students are enrolled in health programs. With more than 250 nursing graduates each year, Jefferson State is the leading producer of nursing graduates with associate degrees in Alabama.

The college also delivers non-credit workforce training in career programs that can be completed in as little as six weeks. These “fast-track” programs prepare students for immediate employment for in-demand jobs such as welding, IT, commercial driver’s license, line worker, heavy equipment operation, web development, certified nursing assistant, medical assistant, pharmacy technician and more.

Jefferson State is also a leader in dual enrollment programs with many area high schools. Each year, more than 2,700 high school students earn college credit while still in high school with Jefferson State.

Wallace State Community College Oneonta Campus

Wallace State’s Oneonta flagship facility, which opened just prior to the pandemic, marked Wallace State’s fourth expansion in Blount County in three years due to increasing demand. The college first established a campus in Oneonta in 2016 in a building that has since been converted to its technical training center. The new facility, constructed in downtown Oneonta next to the library, houses academic programs, including classrooms, computer labs, state-of-the-art science labs and administrative offices.

Now, Wallace State is expanding again with the addition of a nursing LPN program beginning this fall. Students in Oneonta will be part of a Wallace State program that has been designated a Center of Excellence by National League for Nursing, the first such designated program in Alabama. Wallace State and the University of Alabama at Birmingham are partners in a special nursing joint degree program for highly motivated nursing students, as well as a mobility program open to UAB employees.

Wallace State-Oneonta offers seamless academic transfer to any university in Alabama, as well as associate in science and arts degrees, associate in applied science degrees, and certificates.

Programs and classes available in Oneonta now include NC3 certified welding, machining, and mechatronics programs, engineering technology, general studies, liberal arts, Apple Swift coding, EMS, business, graphic arts, computer science, psychology and biology.

Many programs now offer apprenticeships. For example, the Oneonta machining program enjoys a special apprenticeship partnership with Kamtek in Birmingham, and the mechatronics program is a member of the FAME apprenticeship partnership. Special scholarships for Wallace State Oneonta students are available for women in welding and other career tech programs through a grant to the college from the Greater Birmingham Women’s Fund.

Workforce training includes commercial truck driving, customized training for business and industry, Manufacturing Skills Standard Council Certified Production Technician training, and more courses designed to meet employer demand. Wallace State has a growing adult education program serving Oneonta and Blount County, with free ESL and GED classes offered on the Oneonta campus and at sites across Wallace State’s service area.

The college has expanded dual enrollment opportunities for area high schools with academic, as well as health science and applied technical classes. A new dual enrollment program in advanced agriculture will begin later this year.

With graduation and completion rates among the highest in the nation, Wallace State has been recognized nationally and regionally for its efforts in helping students succeed. It has been named an Achieving the Dream Leader College.

This article appears in the April 2023 issue of Business Alabama.

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