Dothan, Ala.–Destiny Roberson stood behind a podium at Wallace Community College-Dothan recently and explained to gathered legislators, workforce representatives, and WCC faculty why she is taking classes in a career technical field. She wants to be a defense attorney.
“I decided to take college courses while I was still in high school so that I could see if this is a field that I really want to go into. And it is.” Roberson, a senior at Carroll High School in Ozark, is a dual enrollment student in the WCC Criminal Justice Program. Dual enrollment allows high school students to take college courses and obtain college credit concurrently.
And, thanks to legislation passed in March, students like Roberson can receive financial help to offset the costs of dual enrollment. Called the Alabama Future Workforce Initiative, the program is a plan that allows local employers and individuals to donate funds for dual enrollment. Donors will enjoy tax credits of 50% of their contributions. They can also direct up to 80% of their donation to a specific training program that would directly impact local employee workforce needs. The income tax credit will begin in 2015. The donations will cover tuition, books, fees, materials, and supplies for eligible students.
“The Alabama Future Workforce Initiative is an investment in our workforce, an investment in our business and industry recruitment efforts, and an investment in the high school students of today who will become the workforce of tomorrow,” said Dr. Linda C. Young, president of Wallace Community College.
Susan Price, Deputy Chancellor of the Alabama Department of Postsecondary Education, expressed appreciation to Governor Bentley and the Legislature. “Because of their vision and support, a new day has dawned for career technical education in Alabama!” she said. “We will now be able to significantly expand and accelerate the education and training of high school students for high-demand, high-wage jobs in our state.”
State Rep. Paul Lee (R – Houston) explained the legislation to attendees. “The Alabama Future Workforce Initiative will create a $10 million scholarship program for students to participate in career technical dual-enrollment programs across Alabama,” he explained. “If a local employer has a need for skilled workers in a certain field, they can help fund the training to produce them locally,” Lee said, discussing the ability to designate contributions. Coupled with the $5 million line item appropriation for career tech dual enrollment earlier in the year, the two programs could serve over 10,000 students.
The Alabama Future Workforce Initiative is focused on career technical fields because trained workers are needed to fill current positions as well as to entice new industries. State Rep. Donnie Chesteen (R – Geneva) commented on the competition for industry: “Make no mistake … other states are competing for industries to locate in their states.” Chesteen described the legislation as a “win-win” for Alabama. “The only losers are the other states who will be competing with us for projects in the coming years.”
Joining the legislators at the podium was Rob Rhoades, president of Diamond-R-Electric, an electrical contractor in Enterprise. Rhoades graduated from the Wallace Community College Electrical Technology Program, which he began several years after graduating from Auburn. He echoed Chesteen’s remarks, and spoke as an employer who has seen the importance of career technical education. “The average age of a skilled worker in Alabama is 47, and they are retiring at a rapid rate,” he commented.
Two other dual enrollment students shared their experience with attendees. James Peters, a 2014 Wicksburg High School graduate, was a dual enrollment student while in high school and is continuing his education this summer in the Air Conditioning and Refrigeration Program at Wallace. Brandon Rice, a Dale County High School dual enrollment student, is studying Drafting and Design Technology. Peters wants to finish his education at Wallace and enter the workforce, while Rice is thinking about architecture as a career, but is undecided. One thing they can agree on is the commitment necessary to take college courses in high school. “The most important thing that I’ve learned is how to multi-task,” said Rice said to an appreciative crowd.
The dual enrollment program has grown in the last few years, with students (and their parents) seeing the value of saving time and money to begin a career earlier or get a jumpstart on college courses. According to Lynn Lamere, WCC Dual Enrollment Coordinator, Wallace Community College has 421 applications for fall semester, including career technical and academic courses. In career technical courses alone, the program has grown from 11 students in fall 2011 to more than 90 applications for this fall. After graduating high school, participating students can continue their education at a 2- or 4-year institution or enter the workforce immediately.
It’s a trend that the Alabama Legislature intends to keep going.