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HUNTSVILLE, Ala – The Alabama Commission on Higher Education thinks it will play a crucial role in reaching Governor Kay Ivey’s goal of adding 500,000 high-skilled workers to the economy by 2025.

There’s one major problem facing that goal. According to the commission, Alabama ranks in the bottom three states in retaining college graduates. In addition, one in five out-of-state students leaves Alabama within one year of graduating college. 

“The big group that we don’t retain are the people in the STEM fields. We know that is important to communities like Huntsville, Madison and Decatur,” said Jim Purcell, the executive director of the Alabama Commission on Higher Education. 

The commission itself serves as an aggregator of information between universities. The commission then helps make informed recommendations and proposals. For example, legislators will see a proposal to increase state funding by a little more than 3 percent for both 2 and 4-year colleges. Equating to roughly a $47 million dollar budget increase. That money is spread among all public state universities. 

“I certainly believe there will be enough funds available for 3 percent,” said Purcell who has talked with legislators all across the state on the potential of increasing state money available to universities. 

Todd Barré, Vice President for Finance & Administration for The University of Alabama in Huntsville says the increase in funding would be welcomed. 

“UAH is very pleased to hear that ACHE is seeking a 3.47% increase in funding for state public universities.  As with past state appropriation increases, UAH would be very appreciative of any increase in support that state-wide decision-makers could provide.  Any new funds would allow the University to continue to invest in strategic programs and assist with absorbing normal inflationary costs increases, as well as, new costs associated with keeping our campus safe during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Barré

Separate from the budget increase proposal by ACHE will be a request for $725,000 to be allocated to the Retain Alabama Fund. The money will help fund scholarships that stipulate the receipts stay in Alabama for a period of time. Purcell says the money will also be used to find ways to encourage people to continue their education. The commission knows many people who get associates degrees in Alabama, stay in Alabama. They’d like to help those people return to college for higher degrees. 

For Purcell and the commission, they think jumping on this opportunity amid a pandemic may pay off for the local economy. 

“This is our opportunity to jump ahead of some other states that are not concentrating on the things that they need for their economy,” said Purcell. 

NEWS 19 will keep tabs on these proposals when the 2021 legislative sessions begins.