BSC prez ‘disappointed’ legislature didn’t approve funding but will continue push to stay open

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A brick sign leading into the Birmingham Southern College campus.

Zoe McDonald, WBHM

Birmingham-Southern College President Daniel B. Coleman acknowledged “disappointment” that the Alabama Legislature opted not to spend some of the state’s $1 billion-plus allocation from the American Rescue Plan Act to keep the financially troubled liberal arts college open.

BSC officials had hoped the Legislature would tap ARPA funds to throw a lifeline to the school, which revealed late last year that the campus could close as early as this year due to years of financial stress coming to a head. The private college is now asking for $37.5 million in public money — $30 million from the state and $7.5 million from the local government — to keep its doors open.

Legislators spent the state’s ARPA allotment on water and sewer projects, broadband access and reimbursements to health care entities such as hospitals, nursing homes, state veterans homes and the health insurance programs for state and public education employees. The plan also calls for allocations to programs that support food banks, housing assistance and other community-based services.

In a letter to alumni and other school supporters, Coleman said the selected projects in the plan are certainly deserving. That said, the president said school officials have “shifted our focus in partnership with our allies in Montgomery and Birmingham as well as with key legislators.”

The next step, the president said, will come in a special session to determine how to spend the $2.8 billion surplus in the Education Trust Fund. He said funding from that source for private institutions happens every year in Alabama.

“We are continuing to make the case that our one-time ask — now $30 million, since ARPA is now not an option — is a great investment for the state,” Coleman said. “To that end, we’ve been working hard to keep BSC visible in the minds of elected officials and their constituents.”

The president said 11 top corporate leaders sent a joint letter to the Jefferson County legislative delegation last week. Coleman cited a pair of guest opinion articles that appeared on AL.com, one from BSC trustee Vicki VanValkenburgh (class of 1988) and one by Graham Spencer (class of 2016).

Coleman said Spencer’s opinion article asked and answered the question: Can Alabama afford to lose its future BSC graduates?

Other supportive statements and letters are in the works, the president said, and all 140 members of the Alabama Legislature received a hand-delivered copy of ‘Southern magazine this week along with a personal note from Coleman.

“The BSC community has been a big help in our efforts through letters, calls, emails, social media posts and shares, and guest opinions in publications around the state,” he said, encouraging supporters to continue their efforts. “We know that legislators are seeing those messages. Even if you’ve reached out before, reach out again over the weekend and through next week as the legislature focuses on the Education Trust Fund.”

Coleman said the school’s board of trustees must decide BSC’s future by the end of March “to give students time to decide where to transfer and help faculty and staff prepare for a change none of us wants to make. The board has been steady, thoughtful and strategic throughout this situation, and we are fortunate to have this group of smart, dedicated and generous leaders at this critical moment in the college’s history.

“We know this ongoing uncertainty is exhausting and stressful for everyone,” Coleman continued. “But know that we are still in this fight and that the small group on the front line spends every day vetting options, answering questions from understandably worried people who love the college, and rallying support for the bridge funding we must have while we raise the endowment that will sustain BSC going forward.”

The president noted the school’s Religious Life program organizing a gathering last Tuesday at the Edwards Bell Tower on the quad that drew about 100 students, faculty, staff and alumni. The event was highlighted by prayers from a range of faith traditions.

“That gathering speaks volumes about who we are — a community of people who believe that the world is better with BSC in it because of what BSC people bring to the world,” Coleman said. “Let’s remain calm and strong as we move together toward what we still believe will be brighter days.”

 

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