City OK’s $5 million to help keep Birmingham-Southern College open

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A brick sign leading into the Birmingham Southern College campus.

Zoe McDonald, WBHM

The Birmingham City Council on Tuesday approved $5 million in funding to help keep Birmingham-Southern College operating.

The city will provide BSC a $2.5 million loan that will be forgiven provided BSC opens classes in the fall and a 20-year loan for the same amount to be repaid at a 1% interest rate.

The council’s commitment of funding triggered another $2.5 million investment from the United Methodist Church’s North Alabama Conference Board of Pension and Health Benefits, which had been approved contingent on the city funding.

BSC President Daniel Coleman said in a statement that next he’ll ask Jefferson County to meet the city’s commitment, focus on private donors and reengage with state leaders to work on getting more funding.

BSC officials announced a year ago that, after years of financial setbacks, the college was on the verge of closing if it did not come up with bridge funding to tide it over.

The Alabama Legislature this year approved, and the governor signed, a new law setting up a revolving loan program for universities. While any college in the state could apply for a loan through the program, it was effectively created for BSC.

But Alabama State Treasurer Young Boozer denied BSC’s request for $30 million under the new program. He said the school did not meet minimum criteria set in the law.

Coleman disagreed and said he will go back to state officials next year to try to obtain the money that essentially has been set aside for BSC.

“We are deeply grateful to the Birmingham City Council for approving this investment and to Mayor Randall Woodfin for putting together the economic development package that not only documents our current value to the city but also the value BSC will continue to bring as we build out our masters’ programs in data science, computer science cybersecurity and information systems over the next four to five years,” Coleman said in a statement after the council’s vote.

BSC officials agreed to create those master programs as part of the deal. They also agreed to awarding up to three full-tuition scholarships a year to Birmingham City Schools graduates.

“For more than 100 years, BSC has educated leaders in business, health care, law, government, education, the arts, ministry, nonprofits and community life,” Coleman said. “That remains our core mission – preparing young people for lives of significance.”

Woodfin spoke in favor of the funding agreement during a council Committee of the Whole meeting last week, highlighting BSC’s economic impact on the city, which is estimated at $7.5 million each year, as well as its presence as an anchor to the western side of Birmingham.

“Try to imagine the West End without Princeton, and we can look no further than Norwood to see what the loss of any institution in close proximity to the city means,” Woodfin said in a statement, referring to the closing of the old Carraway hospital.

“This is the right thing to do, and it is something I stand on.”

The council approved the funding as part of its consent agenda and without debate.

 

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