In July 2021, resident saw the failure of a West Alabama private women’s college in operation since just after Alabama gained statehood. Judson College, a Baptist-affiliated school in Marion, suspended its operation after a scant 80 students registered for fall semester 2021, despite having raised millions of dollars in donations to offset financial woes.
There’s no joy in witnessing the failure of a pillar of higher education. And it appears Alabamians may soon witness another.
Birmingham-Southern College, with roots pre-dating the U.S. Civil War, is in the midst of a fundraising campaign with the hope of raising some $200 million to address fiscal woes that go back a decade. The plan includes asking for $37.5 million in public funds: $30 million from the Alabama Legislature; $5 million from the city of Birmingham; and $2.5 million from Jefferson County.
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The outlook for the state bailout is dismal. Despite lobbying on behalf of the school’s request by influential entities throughout the state, lawmakers, to their credit, are hesitant to approve the hefty bailout because of the precedent it would set.
It’s not that anyone believes the institution isn’t worth saving. Birmingham-Southern has produced many of our state’s influential leaders, such as former U.S. Sen. Howell Heflin, Pulitzer Prize-winner Howell Raines, current U.S. Rep. Robert Aderholt, and authors Sena Jeter Naslund and Gin Phillips.
The problem lies in the concept of using taxpayer funds to bail out a private college.
“At the end of the day, I don’t know that it’s the state’s job to bail out schools, private schools. It’s a slippery slope,” said House Speaker Nathaniel Ledbetter, a Republican from Rainsville. “If it’s Birmingham-Southern this year, who is it next year? What’s the next college or what’s the next big issue?”
No one wants to see Birmingham-Southern suffer the same fate as Judson College, and we hope that by tapping every potential resource available, the school’s administrators and trustees will gather the needed resources to get the private institution back on its feet without public funding.