Grant could pay for college for Black Belt students

Published 6:29 pm Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Hundreds of high school students in the Black Belt could attend college for free before graduation if the Black Belt Commission’s Education committee is successful in securing a $4.4 million grant.

The grant, funded through the U.S. Department of Labor and Department of Education, would pay for college tuition at Wallace Community College and half of the salary for internships for high school students, according to Lowndes County Superintendent Daniel Boyd. He said the grant is specifically focused on STEM subjects — science, technology, engineering and math.

Boyd presented plans for the grant during the Black Belt Commission Executive Committee’s meeting Tuesday in Selma.

Thomasville Mayor Sheldon Day, who attended the meeting, said dual enrollment has helped education in his area tremendously and was supportive of the idea to apply for the grant.

“We have seen our graduation rate go through the roof as a result of dual enrollment,” Day said.

The program would be free to any high school student in Wilcox, Perry, Dallas, Lowndes and Bullock County school systems. It might actually put a bit of money in students’ pockets.

In addition to taking two college courses per semester, students would be able to work during the summer immediately following their sophomore and junior years in high school.

One potential problem with the request, Boyd said, is a lack of companies willing to offer internships to students younger than 18. He said internships in the proposed program includes the business and retails fields, but is missing internships in STEM subjects.

Dallas County Superintendent Don Willingham didn’t attend the meeting, but spoke afterward about the positive benefits of dual enrollment, which many students in his system currently participate in through Wallace Community College.

“I think it’s a great opportunity for our students,” Willingham said. “College is of course still the preferred option after high school, but to be able to get students in a real-world working environment is a great way to prepare them for life after college.”

The Black Belt Commission discussed several other projects during their meeting Tuesday, one of which was a plan to organize a Black Belt caucus in the Alabama Legislature. The caucus would include senators and representatives from Alabama counties, lobbying for common interests.

Infrastructure Committee chairman Noopie Cosby, a former state legislator himself, originally planned to include nine members of the Alabama House and six state senators, but announced Tuesday the caucus would be larger than originally intended to garner more power in Montgomery. His new, larger plan includes 16 counties.

“I think that without support in the legislature it will be more difficult to accomplish some of the projects we are currently planning,” Cosby said. “The caucus hasn’t been formed yet, but the template is there. I am trying to at least get the caucus adopted by the end of the session.”