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Community Colleges ask for $95 million in COVID-19 relief funds for tech improvements

By CAROLINE BECK, Alabama Daily News

MONTGOMERY, Ala. – The Alabama Community College System is asking Gov. Kay Ivey for over $95 million in coronavirus relief funds to improve its distance learning and technology capabilities in light of growing challenges created by the pandemic.

The ACCS is requesting around $95.8 million to improve remote instruction and learning, including developing a ACCSOnline Innovation Center with virtual and augmented reality studios for colleges to use for instructional purposes.

The ACCS includes 24 community colleges.

Chancellor Jimmy Baker told board members on Wednesday that the system’s remote learning capabilities have been growing in the past few months but more needs to be done.

“We’ve made good effort but we’re not where we need to be,” Baker said during the monthly board meeting. “This is a game changer, it affects every school and it would create a system that would probably be far more advanced, in my judgment, than any other system that’s in this surrounding area.”

The CARES Act provided Alabama $1.9 billion in coronavirus relief funds to the state. Approximately $300 million of that was designated by the governor and lawmakers to help with technology and infrastructure issues for remote learning.

The ACCS is also asking for around $41,000 for system office expenditures to help with remote work and necessary sanitation measures.

Part of the $95.8 million would cover upgrades for all the colleges’ technology and network infrastructure and improving software for online courses.

On Monday, Ivey announced that institutions of higher education could submit requests for a combined reimbursement of $50 million of the CARES Act funds. Ivey’s office did not say on Wednesday when they will be making a decision about the ACCS’ request.

Baker said he plans on advocating strongly for this funding and is soliciting support from lawmakers and college presidents.

“It’s a big ask, but we won’t ever get where we need to be unless we ask big,” Baker said.

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