Dual enrollment could increase

Published 12:00 am Saturday, April 26, 2014

John Clark works on a virtual-welding project at LBW’s Opp campus as student Chancey Wyatt monitors his work.

John Clark works on a virtual-welding project at LBW’s Opp campus as student Chancey Wyatt monitors his work.

It is graduation season again, and while high school underclassmen still have years before their big day, new legislation passed in Alabama aims at allowing them more opportunities when commencement finally arrives.

During a press conference held Friday at Lurleen B. Wallace Community College’s MacArthur Campus in Opp, school officials said the new Alabama Future Workforce Initiative will allow them to expand dual-enrollment classes like never before.

“This is a happy occasion for LBW and the state of Alabama,” LBW President Dr. Herb Riedel said. “There have been decisions made by our state legislature that will have some very positive ramifications.”

Some of those ramifications include funds that will allow for dual-enrollment students to increase exponentially over the next few years, according to Terry Waters, executive director of workforce and economic development for the Alabama Department of Postsecondary Education.

“There were only about 2,100 scholarships awarded last year in the state (for dual-enrollment),” Waters said. “Now, we hope to be able to award over 10,000 dual-enrollment scholarships annually.”

Riedel said dual-enrollment has been an active program at LBW for years, but the new initiative allows for its growth through several key changes, including: A new, $5 million line-item appropriation for career development programs included in the initiative; and a tax credit of up to 50 percent to individuals or businesses who donate funds (not to exceed $500,000), with 80 percent of that donation able to be directed towards the program and institution of the donor’s choice.

With more than 85 percent of jobs in Alabama requiring some form of education beyond high school, local business leaders said the initiative will go a long way toward filling the gaps in the state’s workforce with young people trained for high-skill, high-wage jobs.

“Ninety-eight percent of our people we hire are welders,” said Woody Clark, vice president of sales and marketing with Clark Trailer Service, Inc., in Andalusia. “These young men that come to us from these programs have a good work ethic. We need to really increase the interest in welding.”

Alabama Rep. Mike Jones said increasing interest in technical jobs, and the opportunity for local graduates to obtain them, is exactly what the initiative is about.

“The Alabama Future Workforce Initiative is designed to help fill the unmet workforce needs of Alabama employers, including those that are already operating here and those that will locate here in years to come,” Jones said. “I believe in this program. This is an investment in our workforce, our economic development efforts and in the young men and women of today who will comprise our workforce of tomorrow. This is a win, win situation for the citizens of Alabama, and the only losers are the other states who will be competing with us for projects in the coming years.”

Opp High School sophomore, and LBW dual-enrollment student Timothy Ellison said he is looking forward to making the most out of the new opportunity.

“When I graduate high school, I will only have two semesters left in the welding program, and one of those will be strictly academic,” Ellison said. “Dual enrollment has given me the opportunity to get a head start in my welding career.”

In addition to new funding, the LBW welding program alone is also using new virtual reality simulators to give students an idea of what it is like to work in different environments. A new mobile welding unit, provided through AFTEN grant money, will also allow LBW to take welding classes on the road to workforces of companies in Covington, Coffee, Geneva, Butler and Crenshaw counties.

LBW currently offers dual-enrollment classes in child development, culinary arts, emergency medical services (summer only), air conditioning and refrigeration, automotive mechanics, computer science, diesel mechanics, industrial electronics, office administration and welding programs.

For more information on dual-enrollment opportunities at LBWCC, prospective students may contact Debra Hudson at 334.493.5320.