Spotlight on Tuscaloosa County: Higher Education

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

Foster Auditorium, on the campus of the University of Alabama.

University of Alabama

UA set a new enrollment record in the fall of 2022 with 38,645 students. That number was significantly boosted by the largest freshman class in the school’s history — 8,037 students, including 2,987 from Alabama, making the 2022-23 school year the fourth consecutive year with an increase of state-resident freshmen. Fall enrollment numbers also saw a 2% increase in students from ethnic and racial minorities from the previous year.

The university also had a record number of 1,088 National Merit Scholars enrolled in 2022, including 322 freshmen.

For the sixth time in eight years, UA was named a Top Producing Institution for Fulbright U.S. Student Awards and had 15 students receive Fulbright Award offers in 2022-23. UA has produced a total of 16 Rhodes Scholars, 16 Truman Scholars, 41 Hollings Scholars, 17 Boren Scholars and 62 Goldwater Scholars.

The UA School of Law ranks 15th among public universities on U.S. News & World Report’s list of 2023-2024 Best Law Schools, and the UA Manderson Graduate School MBA program ranked among the top in the country on the magazine’s 2023-2024 Best Graduate Schools list.

Sponsored awards that support research, economic development and outreach activities at the university have more than doubled over the past four years — 2022 was the ninth straight fiscal year that saw sponsored awards at an all-time high, up 23.6% to $211.4 million compared to FY21. A total of 840 sponsored awards were received, more than 62% of which came from the federal government, another record.

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Two institutes at UA have seen significant growth in recent years.

In late 2021, the UA Board of Trustees approved forming the Alabama Mobility and Power Center, a research and workforce development hub that is organized under the Alabama Transportation Institute at UA and supported by a partnership among UA, Alabama Power Co. and Mercedes-Benz U.S. International.

And in April 2022, UA announced that it would receive up to $360 million over five years from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to support water research that will improve the nation’s ability to predict water-related hazards and effectively manage water resources. The award, which will be administered by the Alabama Water Institute at UA, is the largest external award in UA’s history.

In January 2022, the University of Alabama announced it was partnering with the U.S. Geological Survey to build a 95,000-square-foot science and engineering facility to support the agency’s Water Enterprise observing networks and research. The new Hydrologic Instrumentation Facility will expand on the Alabama Water Institute’s mission of furthering the study of water as a weather-related threat, a resource and for distribution.

UA’s Capstone College of Nursing is using more than $3.5 million in funding provided by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Employment and Training Administration’s Nursing Expansion Grant Program to address the need to grow and diversify the state’s nursing education workforce. The College of Nursing plans to use the funds to recruit nurses in Alabama to earn master’s degrees with a nursing education specialty.

This spring, the National Science Foundation’s Regional Innovation Engines program awarded a $1 million planning grant to support further development of a proposal UA is spearheading to strengthen the Deep South’s role in the production and support of electric vehicles. The funds will enable UA and its partner institutions, the University of Georgia and Mississippi State University, to compete alongside 44 other teams in the first-ever NSF Engines Development Awards for up to $160 million over 10 years.

Last fall, the Alabama Governor’s Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities named UA its Large Business Employer of the Year. For two and a half years, UA’s University Enable Program, through a partnership with the Alabama Department of Rehabilitation Services, worked to drive disability inclusion by providing work-based learning experiences for individuals with disabilities within various university departments.

In June 2022, the National Science Foundation awarded UA $3 million to establish a unique hydrologic science research and training program for graduate students from a variety of water disciplines. The Water-R2O project, which will welcome its first class of students in the fall of 2023, provides a career path that meets the research-to-operations needs of hydrologic researchers, forecasters and decision makers in government, private and academic sectors.

In February 2022, the family of ADTRAN cofounder Mark Smith committed $20 million toward the construction of a performing arts center that will house the university’s Department of Theatre and Dance and include four performance theaters. The Smith Family Center for the Performing Arts is scheduled to be completed in 2026.

Arick Evans is Mister Stillman, a position created by the college to foster mentoring between college students and young students in Tuscaloosa-area schools.

Stillman College

Located on a 105-acre campus in Tuscaloosa, Stillman College is a private historically Black liberal arts institution formally affiliated with the Presbyterian Church.

The college recently selected Dr. Yolanda W. Page to serve as its eighth president, following the retirement of Dr. Cynthia Warrick, who held the position since 2017. Page, who began her duties as president on July 1, previously served as provost and vice president for academic affairs at Savannah State University.

In April, Stillman earned top honors and a $75,000 institutional grant at the 34th Honda Campus All-Star Challenge, a premier academic competition for students from HBCUs. The Stillman team qualified for the national tournament after a series of regional competitions and ultimately triumphed over teams from 64 HBCUs. This was Stillman’s first win.

In February, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration awarded Stillman a $2.7 million grant to upgrade its fiber optic infrastructure, which was installed in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and improve internet access, capacity and performance across the campus. The project is scheduled to be completed by the end of this year.

That announcement came just four months after the U.S. Economic Development Administration awarded $2.7 million to the college to develop a cybersecurity and information technology training center in Geneva Hall. The center will support Stillman’s cybersecurity degree program and serve as a community hub for IT certificate programs in cybersecurity, IT, cloud computing and other areas.

In August 2022, in an effort to support Stillman’s commitment to fighting food insecurity and promoting sustainability, Metz Culinary Management, the college’s on-campus food service provider, provided $10,000 to help expand the Stillman Foundation Community Garden, which launched in the spring of 2022. The additional garden space will be used to grow collard greens for the on-campus cafeteria and to distribute to families in Tuscaloosa’s West End through a cooperative relationship with Brown Memorial Presbyterian Church.

In July 2022, Stillman received two $500,000 grants from the National Park Service (NPS) to support renovations of two of the campus’ historic buildings. The first $500,000 is part of a History of Equal Rights grant and will be used to restore the exterior of Winsborough Hall, the oldest remaining building in Stillman’s Historic District. The former residence hall, now vacant, will be transformed into the Winsborough Hall Living & Learning Center, a residential center for active seniors that will serve a variety of campus and community needs. The Winsborough project is expected to cost roughly $11 million.

The NPS also awarded Stillman $500,000 to upgrade technology and infrastructure at Sheppard Library, which will become a civil rights museum and digital learning center. Stillman was one of five HBCUs in Alabama to receive funding through the NPS Historic Preservation Fund.

In March 2022, Stillman signed a memorandum of understanding with the University of Alabama that will allow Stillman students, under certain conditions, an opportunity to take graduate level courses at UA during their senior year, participate in early advising and immersion programs and eventually enroll in graduate school. The program is an expansion of a long-running concurrent enrollment agreement between Stillman and UA, which celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2022.

Shelton State Community College’s campus in the spring, when the pear trees are in bloom.

Shelton State Community College

Shelton State is one of the largest two-year colleges in the state, with approximately 7,000 students enrolled in some form of coursework; roughly 3,000 of those are full-time. It is also one of six HBCUs in Alabama. The college offers more than 30 associate degree options in technical and health service programs.

According to its economic impact report for FY 2020-21, the college added $248.1 million in income to the service area economy (Tuscaloosa County and Bibb County), a value that is approximately equal to 2.2% of the region’s gross regional product. The activities of SSCC and its students also supported one out of every 33 jobs in the service area.

The college recently announced that it has been accepted, along with five other Alabama community colleges, into the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, a nationally recognized nonprofit membership organization that supports more than 50 HBCUs. They are the first two-year schools in the country to gain membership.

In June, SSCC launched Pathway to Robotics, Industrial Maintenance and Engineering (P.R.I.M.E.), a new dual enrollment program that will be available to high school students from the Tuscaloosa city and county schools systems. Through the program, students can earn up to 27 credit hours toward an Industrial Electronics (ILT) AAS degree at the college. Last fall, the college, the city and the city schools announced a new program offering nine free credit hours to these dual enrollment students after they graduate from high school.

In April 2022, Shelton State received a $40,000 donation from the Alabama Power Foundation to support health care programs housed in the college’s HBCU site, the C.A. Fredd Campus. The money will go toward scholarships for students from underrepresented minority groups.

Shelton State is a member of the Alabama Community College Conference and competes in the National Junior College Athletic Association. Last spring, SSCC announced the addition of men’s and women’s cross-country and men’s and women’s golf to its athletic program. Both began competing in the fall of 2022.

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

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