Spotlight on Lee, Russell and Macon: Higher Education

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

Auburn University

Auburn University has provided instruction, research and outreach to benefit the state of Alabama and the nation for 167 years and is among a distinctive group of universities designated as land-, sea- and space-grant institutions.

For the fifth consecutive year, Auburn University has set a record for its highest enrollment, exceeding 33,000 students, and welcomed the largest first-year class in its history. Auburn continues to educate more students from Alabama than any other institution in the state, officials say. Auburn has 5,552 full time employees.

Auburn makes a $5.6 billion economic contribution to the state each year and provides more than 150 degree programs. Consistently highly ranked, the university increased its national and public university rankings in the U.S. News and World Report’s “2024 Best Colleges” list, published in September 2023. Auburn increased its ranking four positions to No. 93 among national universities and maintained its place among the top 50 public universities at No. 47.

In the last 12 years, Auburn has invested $2 billion in projects, and has spent $697.3 million on 595 projects designed and built over the past five years. Among the projects are new and renovated student housing; a new building for the National Soil Dynamics Laboratory; a new $77 million building for the College of Education; and the Woltosz Football Performance Center with indoor facilities and outdoor practice fields.

Auburn’s Real Estate Foundation and the College of Forestry, Wildlife and Environment also accepted a gift of 415 acres of Crooked Oaks farm that belonged to legendary Auburn football coach Pat Dye. It includes Dye’s main house, a guest cabin, lodge, pavilion, gazebo, two barns and a nursery office.

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Five years after the Auburn Oaks at Toomer’s Corner were poisoned, the replacement trees are strong enough to allow students to resume the tradition of rolling the trees after athletic victories.

Tuskegee University

Tuskegee University, with 2,654 students, is ranked No. 4 among Best Historically Black Colleges and Universities by U.S. News and World Report, and the school ranks high for teaching and best value schools. It also is the only HBCU to be designated a National Historic Site, and is the top ranked HBCU in Alabama.

Tuskegee University also has been designated as a 2023 Fulbright HBCU Institutional Leader by the U.S. Department of State, recognizing the school’s commitment to fostering global engagement and diversity within the Fulbright Program during the 2022-23 academic year.

Tuskegee University’s cutting-edge research in several areas has netted millions of grants over the years. In just one recent example, the Tuskegee University Research Centers in Minority Institutions Center for Biomedical Research (TU RCMI CBR) has received a $25 million grant from the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities to help researchers develop health solutions for minority populations, particularly around obesity and breast and cervical cancer. This is the largest research grant ever awarded to Tuskegee, which will partner with local and national health organizations to distribute research results directly to community members.

Tuskegee offers 42 bachelor’s degrees, 16 master’s degrees and six doctoral degree program options. It is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges, as well as other accrediting with specialized fields and disciplines.

Tuskegee is the top producer of African American Ph.D. holders in materials science and engineering in the U.S. And its College of Veterinary Medicine produces 75% of the African American veterinarians in the world.

It also has the first nursing baccalaureate program in the state and one of the oldest in the U.S.

Southern Union State Community College

Southern Union State Community College is the second oldest two-year college in Alabama with a current enrollment of 4,702. It is located close to Auburn University and offers a three-faceted educational emphasis on academic programs for transferability, technical programs for specialized career competencies and health sciences programs for specialized training in the health field.

SUSCC serves students through its campuses in Wadley, Opelika and Valley and serves an eight-county area of east and central Alabama, as well as neighboring Georgia counties.

In addition to an academic transfer curriculum, the Opelika campus boasts a full range of two-year programs in the technical and health science divisions. The Higginbotham Academic Center’s Health Sciences building has a simulated health care facility where students of nursing, radiography and emergency medical services put individual learning to the test while gaining experience in a team setting. The Center for Integrated Manufacturing serves as a catalyst for workforce development in east central Alabama.

One of the newest certification and degree programs is Aviation Maintenance Technology, a six-semester program at the Opelika campus.

There are two areas of concentration — airframe and powerplant mechanics. Students receive real-world training in a specially designed teaching facility where students work on a wide range of aircraft equipment and components.

The college fields several sports, and this fall the school added men’s and women’s soccer programs.

Chattahoochee Valley Community College

CVCC in Phenix City is a public, comprehensive, two-year community college serving a diverse population through traditional classroom and distance-learning formats.

CVCC offers associate degrees and certificates in more than 50 programs of study for traditional and nontraditional students.

Despite a national decline in community college enrollment, CVCC has seen significant growth in enrollment, with fall 2022 up 20% over the previous year and spring 2023 up 13% from the previous year.

CVCC recently marked its 50th anniversary with ceremonies and other events and celebrated its reaffirmation of accreditation with the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges for the next
10 years.

CVCC’s nursing program is very successful. The pass rate for students taking the National Council Licensure Examination is higher than the national average. In addition to classroom instruction, the program offers nurse apprenticeship opportunities. This initiative from the Alabama Office of Apprenticeship is the first of its kind in the nation. Students who qualify for the nurse apprenticeship program are paid for completing their clinical hours through partnerships with clinical facilities.

CVCC also recently held a Veterans Resource Fair, providing support to student-veterans and their families, organized by CVCC’s Center of Excellence for Veteran Student Success.

CVCC has the only non-profit fire science program in Alabama, and the welding program has a 100% employment rate.

Troy University, Phenix City 

Troy University’s Phenix City Campus offers degree programs that help meet the needs of students in east Alabama and nearby Columbus, Georgia, with a focus on convenient and flexible course options tailored to the needs of working adults, particularly working parents. Using a U.S. Department of Education grant, Troy is able to subsidize child care for student-parents.

The campus offers undergraduate and graduate degree programs in several high-demand fields, including business and marketing, human resource management, education, psychology, social work, human services and counseling.

Also key to the Troy Phenix City mission is community engagement. The campus serves as a venue for numerous community meetings, workshops, conferences and other events. And Troy students, faculty and staff regularly participate in volunteer opportunities.

As part of that commitment, the campus launched the ELITE — Empowering Leaders into Transformative Engagement — program this spring. It is designed to develop leaders who understand the role of government and how their individual contributions can advance and improve their neighborhoods, with sessions on communications skills, conflict resolution, civic engagement, government, health issues, jobs and more.

The campus also is a part of the effort to transform the region through the CHIPS4CHIPS program. In early 2022, Ben Moser, CEO and president of United Way of the Chattahoochee Valley, took on the challenge of reducing the poverty rate in the Phenix City/Columbus, Georgia, area through high-paying jobs.

Passed with a bipartisan effort in August of 2022, the CHIPS Act is intended to bolster U.S. national security by reducing reliance on the foreign semiconductor supply chain and bringing the manufacturing back to the U.S.

Putting these pieces together, the Chattahoochee Hub for Innovation and Production of Semiconductors was created in fall 2022.

The effort will work with more than 34 higher education institutions and K-12 systems in Alabama and Georgia.

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

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