Spotlight on Madison County: Higher Education

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

The new Student Services Building on the campus of the University of Alabama in Huntsville. Photo by Michael Mercier/UAH.

University of Alabama in Huntsville

The University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH) is a public university that consists of nine colleges and offers 89 degrees in more than 100 areas of study, including a new bachelor’s degree in engineering technology that launched in 2022. UAH has 9,237 students enrolled, representing 49 states and 48 countries. The university has seen a 41% increase in degrees conferred since the 2015-2016 academic year.

The university is the twelfth largest employer in Madison County and has 371 full-time faculty members.

UAH is ranked as an “R1 – Very high research activity” university in the Carnegie Classification of Institutes of Higher Education. It also has earned national rankings for federally funded research expenditures, including sixth in aerospace/aeronautical/astronautical engineering, ninth in computer and information sciences, tenth in atmospheric science and meteorology, twelfth in astronomy and eighteenth in industrial and manufacturing engineering.

UAH cultivates strong partnerships with federal agencies and organizations in the Huntsville area, including the HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology, NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, the Missile Defense Agency, the DIA Missile and Space Intelligence Center and the U.S. Army Materiel Command. Its nearly 500-acre campus is home to 17 high-tech research centers and labs that generate nearly $170 million in annual research and development expenditures. The university also is the anchor tenant for Cummings Research Park.

In October, the College of Engineering received notice that all seven of its undergraduate programs received the highest accreditation from the Engineering Accreditation Commission of the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology.

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Last year, the University of Alabama Board of Trustees gave conceptual approval for the first planning phase of a new 80,000-square-foot multistory academic and research facility for the College of Engineering.

Working with the city of Huntsville, UAH is considering a “college town” area on the 58-acre site of the former Executive Plaza. The area would include housing, dining, entertainment, recreation, conference and hotel facilities. In the meantime, UAH has 155 student-run organizations, 11 fraternities and sororities and 15 NCAA sports.

Calhoun Community College.

Calhoun Community College

With a 110-acre campus in Decatur, as well as a campus in Cummings Research Park in Huntsville, Calhoun Community College serves approximately 10,000 students and offers more than 100 associate degree options and career/certificate programs. It is the largest two-year college in the Alabama Community College System and the sixth-largest higher education institution in the state.

For the second year in a row, Calhoun was recognized in 2021 as the nation’s top advanced manufacturing degree-awarding institution in the Emsi (Economic Modeling Specialist International) Manufacturing Engineering/Technician degree rankings.

The nursing program at Calhoun is one of the top-ranked in the state, with both registered nurse and licensed practical nurse graduates exceeding state and national pass rates on licensing exams.

Drake State Community & Techical College.

Drake State Community & Technical College

J.F. Drake State Community & Technical College was founded in 1961 as the Huntsville State Vocational Technical School and later changed its name in honor of long-term Alabama A&M University President Joseph Fanning Drake. The college currently serves more than 800 students and offers 10 programs with more than 30 career pathways. It is one of 10 community colleges nationwide selected for the Institute for Evidence-Based Change (IEBC) Caring Campus Initiative and also is listed among University HQ’s Top 50 Best Historically Black Colleges and Universities for 2022.

In 2021, Drake State was awarded a $1.3 million grant through NASA/MSFC MUREP Program to develop a STEM pipeline for minorities and underrepresented populations.

Last fall, the first class of students began the college’s LPN Launch Program, a partnership between Drake State and Huntsville Hospital that provides training from college nursing faculty and a job at Huntsville Hospital upon successfully completing the program. Students in the program receive up to $15,000 in financial assistance from Huntsville Hospital for tuition, fees, books and other expenses. In exchange, students commit to work for three years as an LPN at the hospital after graduation.

Last summer, Drake State received a $2.4 million grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce and National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s Connecting Minority Communities Pilot program. The funding will help combat historical broadband and computer access inequities in and around Madison County by providing access to enabled laptops to students, including dually enrolled high school students; increasing at-home broadband access for students and their families; and creating a mobile cyber-lab learning bus.

Alabama A&M University

Alabama Agricultural and Mechanical University (AAMU) is a traditional 1890 land-grant institution and the largest historically Black college and university in Alabama, with 6,100 undergraduate, graduate and doctoral students. AAMU consists of four colleges and offers more than 60 undergraduate, graduate and certificate programs and concentrations. It also enrolls the largest number of minority STEM majors in the state, and 52.3% of the university’s STEM majors are women.

In spring 2022, AAMU launched a new Master of Public Administration (MPA) program that focuses on social, entrepreneurial and business approaches to public service issues and opportunities in local, county and state levels of government. The 36-credit-hour program is geared toward mid-career professionals in public, private and non-profit sectors.

After two years of construction, AAMU cut the ribbon on its new 135,000-square-foot Events Center in November 2022. The multi-function $52 million, 6,000 capacity arena creates a gateway to the west side of the campus. In addition to serving the AAMU basketball and volleyball teams, the facility will host other university and community functions, including graduations and special guest speaker events.

The university also opened a $7.6 million Welcome Center in November. The building houses the Office of Admissions and serves as a hub for student-related functions and information. The welcome center also includes an executive conference area, commercial restaurants and retail space.

A student in the biology department at Oakwood University.

Oakwood University

Oakwood University is a private, historically Black Seventh-day Adventist university and the only HBCU owned and operated by the Seventh-day Adventist church. The university offers 58 majors across five schools. It also offers five graduate programs in pastoral studies, urban ministry, public health, business administration and social work.

In June 2022, the university’s Community Health Action Center launched Camp Oaks, a summer science, technology, engineering, arts and math camp for children in grades K-7. Over a course of four weeks, students receive instruction in confidence building, intellectual property development, entrepreneurship, design thinking, persistence, creative problem solving, innovation, collaboration and health principles.

In January, Oakwood opened a new COVID-19 vaccination clinic at the university’s Community Health Action Center with the goal of ensuring equitable distribution and administration of vaccines among high-risk and underserved populations.

Faulkner University (Huntsville campus)

Faulkner University is a private, Christian liberal arts university based in Montgomery. The university’s extension campus in Huntsville has been operating for more than 30 years and offers bachelor’s degree options in business, psychology and criminal justice fields, plus several associate degree programs.

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

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