By Randall L. Woodfin
As the mayor of Birmingham, I am deeply troubled by the potential loss of Birmingham-Southern College – a private liberal arts college formed in 1918 — and I am fully supportive of the college’s strategy to conquer its financial challenges once and for all.
I support this effort for many reasons, not the least of which is the $70.5 million annual economic impact the college has on Jefferson County, though that is compelling on its own.
While BSC is small compared to Alabama’s state-supported institutions, it has an outsized impact on our city and state in many other ways.
The college has a well -known reputation for producing doctors, lawyers, teachers, ministers, performing artists, and business owners. What is especially important about those BSC graduates is that more than half of them stay in Alabama, and that two-thirds of those remain in Birmingham after graduation or return here after earning additional degrees.
Equally important is the fact that BSC borders College Hills and Bush Hills, and partners with leadership in those historic neighborhoods to develop opportunities for residents and students to connect thoughtfully and intentionally. Should BSC close, what will happen on those nearly 200 acres? There is no buyer waiting in the wings; no other college sitting ready to move onto the campus and provide the stability that BSC has brought to the western edge of the city for more than a century.
Finally, at a time when so many are working so hard to keep Alabama moving forward, the loss of this nationally ranked liberal arts college would be an enormous setback, and not just for Birmingham. Smart, ambitious, service-focused students looking to get their start at a nationally ranked liberal arts college will undoubtedly leave Alabama to attend the BSCs of neighboring states. And most of them will not return to Birmingham after college.
With a relatively small investment, saving BSC would signal that Alabama values education, that one size does not fit all, and that there is room on this state’s educational landscape for colleges large and small, public and private.
Saving BSC will also send a powerful message to innovation-focused businesses thinking about settling in Birmingham: That Alabama is committed to changing the fact that only 25 percent of adults over age 25 have a college degree so that they can find their next great hires right here.
Those great hires from BSC will include graduates working in Birmingham’s growing community of technology-focused companies. BSC has launched a summer program in data science and has been approved to include a data science master’s degree in fall 2023. Tech entrepreneurs need those graduates, and Birmingham needs them to stay here to live, work, serve, and be part of our city’s bright future.
I encourage BSC leadership and trustees to continue to rally support from every corner of the state and beyond to secure the understanding of its important role in the past, present, and the need for a sustainable BSC in the future.
Randall L. Woodfin is Mayor of Birmingham, Alabama