Press Release: New citywide partnership aims to increase the number of Birmingham students enrolled, graduating from college

February 26th, 2015

Alabama Possible, the Community Foundation of Greater Birmingham, and others join national network to increase post-high school attainment

For Immediate Release:                  
February 26, 2015

Contact: Adam Muhlendorf, Longleaf Strategies
adam@longleafstrategies.com; (334) 625-0175

Birmingham, Ala. – A new partnership seeking to increase the number of Birmingham City School graduates enrolling in and graduating from the area’s two- and four-year postsecondary institutions was today named one of twenty cities from across the country to receive national support.

Alabama Possible, a statewide anti-poverty nonprofit organization, leads the partnership that includes, among others, the Community Foundation of Greater Birmingham, Birmingham City Schools, the Birmingham Education Foundation, Jefferson State Community College, Lawson State Community College, and the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

The partnership’s long-term goals include enrolling 75 percent of Birmingham City School graduates in postsecondary education immediately following high school and for 65 percent of those students to complete a degree or earn a credential within six years of their initial enrollment.

A recent study by the University of Pennsylvania’s Alliance for Higher Education and Democracy and the Pell Institute for the Study of Opportunity in Higher Education found that the college achievement gap is growing between non-poverty and low-income students. The study found that while more low-income students are enrolling in a postsecondary program, non-poverty students are eight times more likely than individuals from low-income families to obtain a degree by age 24.

The Birmingham partnership will provide low-income and first-generation college students with a network of resources and relationships that will equip them to overcome the economic and social barriers that prevent many students from starting and finishing college.

“Low-income students, like those who graduate from Birmingham City Schools, are among the least likely to attain the thing most likely to lift them out of poverty: a college degree or credential,” said Kristina Scott, executive director of Alabama Possible. “Our partnership’s goals include aligning support services to overcome the economic, social and psychological barriers for low-income and first-generation students to build a culture of college access and success.”

“Through our involvement with workforce development we hear regularly from employers that it is a struggle to find talent for jobs ranging from production workers to operational and business managers,” said James McCrary, vice president of Programs at the Community Foundation. “There are good jobs out there and we believe this program will help to better prepare our students for those jobs, increase their marketability and improve their earning potential. Having access to these resources will substantially impact the future of these students.”

“The pathway to a high-quality credential is not an easy one,” said Dr. Perry Ward, president of Lawson State Community College. “In preparing tomorrow’s workforce, we realize that there are sometimes substantial obstacles between student enrollment and degree completion. It becomes imperative that we use creative measures, form strong partnerships and identify specific needs to better service our students and ensure their success in the classroom and as productive citizens in society.”

The Birmingham partnership is one of two cities in Alabama that were tapped to join the Indianapolis-based Lumina Foundation’s community-based attainment network. The partnership in Birmingham and a second group in Mobile, led by the Mobile Area Education Foundation, were among the 20 cities named by Lumina Foundation today, bringing the total number of cities involved in Lumina Foundation’s network to 75.

Lumina Foundation’s work is designed to help communities and regions dramatically increase the number of local residents with postsecondary credentials. Lumina’s focus on community-based attainment began because of the Foundation’s recognition that community-based networks are well-suited to play a role in institutional planning and can provide the implementation and coordination that is necessary to create impact at state and federal levels in order to improve the nation’s higher education system so that it better serves students.

“Two-thirds of Americans live in or near cities. Our nation cannot meet its growing demand for citizens who have earned a postsecondary credential without meaningful community-based efforts that are tightly focused on increasing educational attainment,” said Jamie Merisotis, Lumina’s president and CEO. “We are very pleased with the way this work has unfolded. With 75 communities across the nation working to align the work of business, civic and education efforts in their local communities, greater coordination will occur, resulting in tangible benefits for students of all ages. These students in turn will become graduates who form the backbone of the future economic, social and cultural success of those communities.”

Birmingham and the other communities will work closely with Lumina and other national thought leaders to develop a customized action plan focused on reaching attainment goals to increase the percentage of high-quality credentials held by community residents. The collaborative effort connects participating cities with significant technical and planning assistance, data tools, flexible funding, and the ability to customize attainment plans that will best suit each community’s needs and the well-being of its residents. Local leaders heading up this work represent a range of sectors from higher education, to K-12, employers, human services, religious and a variety of other community-based organizations.

The overall effort connects to Goal 2025, Lumina’s national goal to increase the percentage of Americans with high-quality degrees, certificates, and other credentials to 60 percent by the year 2025. Progress toward the goal will be measured by credentials earned after high school, including certificates, associate degrees and bachelor’s degrees held by local residents. The cities selected will work with Lumina through 2016 to expand and deepen the work they have demonstrated in advancing postsecondary attainment agendas.

The third and final cohort of communities include: Atlanta, Ga.; Birmingham, Ala.; Boise, Idaho; Charleston, S.C.; Charlotte, N.C.; Durham, N.C.; Fresno, Calif.; Miami, Fla.; Mobile, Ala.; Monterey Bay, Calif.; Racine, Wis.; Rockford, Ill.; Shasta County, Calif.; Southern Indiana; Springfield, Mo.; St. Louis, Mo.; Tampa, Fla.; Tulsa, Okla.; Twin Cities, Minn.; Tyler, Texas.

To view a complete list of cities participating in this work, national thought leaders assisting these cities, and to learn more about this work please click here.

About Lumina Foundation: Lumina Foundation is an independent, private foundation committed to increasing the proportion of Americans with high-quality degrees, certificates and other credentials to 60 percent by 2025. Lumina’s outcomes-based approach focuses on helping to design and build an accessible, responsive and accountable higher education system while fostering a national sense of urgency for action to achieve Goal 2025. For more information, log on to: www.luminafoundation.org

Alabama Possible is a statewide 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization dedicated to reducing poverty and its root cause across Alabama. AP educates Alabamians about poverty, collaborates with colleges and faith-based institutions on poverty-reduction activities and advocates for fact-based policy decisions. AP was founded in 1993 and is based in Birmingham, AL. For more information visit www.alabamapossible.org.

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Rethink Alabama Benefit Dinner

November 14th, 2014

On Tuesday, October 28th, Alabama Possible hosted its 4th annual benefit dinner at Regions Field.

Around 140 business, higher education, and civic leaders from around Alabama gathered for dinner, fellowship, and a conversation between Don Logan and Cheryl Morgan.

Don and Cheryl focused their discussion on fostering economic, cultural, and community growth in downtown Birmingham.

Cheryl, the former director of Auburn University’s Urban Studio, conceded home field advantage to Don, former CEO of Time Inc. and current owner of the Birmingham Barons.

Speaking to the slow and steady process of downtown revitalization, Don emphasized that he and his team had to be deliberative in determining the viability of a baseball team in the Southside of Birmingham. Although people from Birmingham appealed to him for the good of the community, he said, “It’s not great for the community if the business fails.”

Don said he and his sons, who co-own the team, “wanted to make and have a home we could feel comfortable in for 25 to 30 years,” and moving a baseball team, “wasn’t like moving a business where you’re in an office, where if you decide things aren’t going well…well we’ll just wait until the lease runs out and we’ll go to another office. You can’t do that.”

Don said that along with economic viability, the location had to feel safe and engage the whole community. Instrumental in the decision to move was the opening of neighboring Railroad Park.

On the basis that “great cities have great parks,” Cheryl and Urban Studio pushed the city for 20 years to make Railroad Park a reality. She said, “We looked out at this area of disinvestment and asked ‘What would happen if we brought citizens together there?’”

Seeing that the vacant space—nearly destined to serve a used car lot—“didn’t have any baggage,” Cheryl knew that Birmingham “could invent its story.”

Cheryl said, “Every place is broken if you want to start with what doesn’t work,” and challenged guests to identify what’s good and what works and rethink what’s possible for their own communities and Alabama.

After 30 minutes of conversation, guests asked the evening’s two honorees questions around replicating the successes of Regions Field and Railroad Park across the city. After each answer it became clearer that lasting success takes considerable patience, commitment, and persistence. But it works, and it’s worth it.

Thanks to the generosity of our sponsors and donors, the benefit dinner raised nearly $53,000 to support Alabama Possible’s work to partner with higher-education and faith-based organizations to strengthen awareness about poverty and its causes while advocating for fact-based policy decisions statewide.

Thank you again to our sponsors:

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Choices.

October 10th, 2014

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Choices. The work we do at Blueprints is all about creating opportunities and the ability for students to have choices: the choice in post-secondary education, the choice in career, and the choice in lifestyle.

At our second Blueprints session, The Value of Education, 25 freshmen at Wenonah High School, along with their UAB mentors, discussed the monetary value of college. In this session, participants fill out a hypothetical budget based on educational attainment, from high school diploma or lack thereof, to professional degree.

The mentors guide the students as they plan their hypothetical monthly expenses and intertwine mathematics, critical thinking, and problem solving. The student who is assigned the high school diploma is challenged to balance a monthly budget on just $1,191; meanwhile, the student with the bachelor’s degree is allocated $4,430 for their monthly budget.

I overheard one student, Arius, who had been assigned the budget of a high school dropout say, “I have no choice but to take the bus.”

That comment hit home for her and her classmates. Suddenly the student who envisioned their future home and life a certain way made the crucial connection that with education comes choices; the choice of what type of car to drive, the choice of what type of house to live in, and the choice of what the future looks like.

Blueprints has tips to make the most of your college fair experience

September 11th, 2014

College Fair Tips by Alabama Possible

Meet Our New Blueprints Program Coordinator Mary Afton Day

August 7th, 2014

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What drew you back to the Magic City?

After graduating form Auburn, I moved to Mississippi. What an adventure that turned out to be! But I was struggling with homesickness and missing the excitement of Birmingham’s revitalization! This is where I grew up. My family is here along with all those It’s A Wonderful Life showings at the Alabama Theater. I wanted to experience Birmingham as it is now and be a part of what it is going to be. Alabama is a wonderful state. We have a bright future.

You just started at Alabama Possible. What excites you about this work? 

Alabama Possible is a credit to its name! Making things possible! Excuse the corniness, but we are getting our hands dirty, having dialogue, and supporting communities that need as many cheerleaders as they does movers and shakers. I will be coordinating Blueprints in Birmingham’s Woodlawn, Wenonah, and Ramsay schools along with Central High School in Tuscaloosa. I am ready to be in the classroom and to see the faces of the future of Alabama!

What is you favorite place in Birmingham?

Do I have to pick just one?! If I did have to choose, it would span Morris Avenue to 2nd Ave North. There is also something wonderfully nostalgic watching the trains move along the highline.

AND, you can’t beat Pepper Place—especially Red Cat and Charlie Thigpen’s Garden Gallery.

Do you have any hobbies?

Photography! Love taking snapshots. I also collect vinyl records thanks to my dad. It’s our special dad-daughter pastime.

Are you reading any books right now? Or have a favorite?

When I was in England, the place I was staying had a quaint library. I grabbed Joanne Harris’ Chocolat and Maeve Binchy’s Circle of Friends to read on the tube. I finished Chocolat! It was wonderful. But I had to leave behind a partly read Circle of Friends. It may have taken me three years but I bought it just the other night; I’m excited to finish it!