By MARY SELL, Alabama Daily News
The Alabama Commission on Higher Education is requesting funding increases of 3.47% for public universities and 3.06% for two-year colleges in the next fiscal year.
New in the 2022 budget request is the Retain Alabama initiative, an effort to keep Alabama higher education graduates working in the state after they receive their diplomas. The first year of the program, if funded, would focus on graduates with degrees in science, technology, engineering and math, said ACHE Executive Director Jim Purcell.
The 2020 ACHE Employment Outcomes Report indicated only one in five out-of-state bachelor’s degree graduates were working in Alabama one year after graduation.
“We certainly believe in public education’s role to help the needs of the business industry in our state,” Purcell said. “Our outcomes report identified that we didn’t necessarily retain as many people in the STEM fields as we did in other areas so this initiative in the beginning will target those in STEM fields to make sure that they see the opportunities that we have in the state and connect them to business and industry that need those types of graduates.”
State Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, chairs the Senate education budget committee. He said he has been working with Purcell for several months about how to retain more students attending Alabama colleges. The two have met several times to plan a strategy for retention of not only in-state students, but also those from out of state.
“We need to do more to keep Alabama college graduates and we are working on a plan,” Orr said.
Conversations have involved the economic development groups, Orr said.
The budget request also includes about $10 million for performance-based funding, an initiative that began several years ago to fund schools based on measurements including student retention and graduation rates.
The commission voted on the requested increase at a quarterly meeting this month. It is required by state statute to come up with a higher education budget request each year. Its recommendations can defer from what individual schools request. Earlier this month, the Alabama Community College System discussed a 2022 budget request increase of about 10%.
The current year state education budget, including K-12 funding, is about $7.2 billion; $1.8 billion of that is dedicated to higher education.
The commission is also requesting a 19.3% increase for the Alabama Student Assistance Program, Alabama’s need-based aid program. This year’s budget included $5.9 million for the program.
Education and state agency leaders will make their financial pitches to lawmakers during budget hearings in late January in advance of the 2021 legislative session that starts Feb. 2.