JDCC loses funds; Upward Bound axed
A Jefferson Davis Community College program that has fostered success in students from five schools across the county — including some who earned scholarships to become the first in their families to attend college — has lost its funding.
After 17 years of serving students in five schools, the Upward Bound program at Jefferson Davis Community College lost its federal grant, one of several in the region that lost funding.
Beth Billy, who serves as director of student support services and development at JDCC, said the loss of the funding will have a huge impact, not only on the college, but also on the students served by the program.
“After 17 years of operating a highly effective Upward Bound Program, it was eliminated this year in a competitive grant funding process,” Billy said. “This program has served hundreds of low-income, first-generation students from five area high schools during those 17 years. Since the grant funding runs in five-year cycles, that would be around $2 million in funding lost for the program at JD.”
Billy said the staff members lost in the funding cuts are excellent examples of what benefits the program has provided for students over the years.
“We lost three staff members with the loss of funding,” Billy said. “All three of them were former Upward Bound students. They know what the program did for them and what it meant to the community. They went on to earn degrees and came home to give back to the community in whatever capacity they could. We had an excellent program and a staff that was dedicated. They got what the program was about.”
Former Upward Bound staff member Shemeka Leslie has first-hand knowledge of how important the program has been for students.
“I was one of the first alumni of the program,” Leslie said. “It was a great benefit to me to be a part of the Upward Bound program. It has gotten me where I am today.”
Leslie has been a part of the staff for 10 years — a job she said has been a pleasure.
“I was so happy to be able to give back to the program that helped me so much,” Leslie said. “It was wonderful to be able to help students get some direction for their future. We aided a lot of students with general support and helping with scholarship. Losing the program is just devastating.”
Billy said the program served qualifying students at W.S. Neal and T.R. Miller High Schools, Flomaton High School, Escambia County High School, and Hillcrest High School.
“We had two students from Escambia County High School who were awarded $20,000 Dell Scholarships who were part of the Upward Bound program,” Billy said. ‘Those students would never have been able to get those scholarships if they hadn’t been in the program – they wouldn’t have been eligible to apply. Those students have had their lives changed because of that and we’re proud to have been a part of that change.”
Billy said JDCC’s program wasn’t the only one of its kind lost with the funding cuts.
“There were other colleges that serve this region that lost their programs in these cuts, too,” Billy said. “Faulkner in Bay Minette and Springhill in Mobile lost their funding. There were 10 long-standing programs that lost their funding this time. Approximately 20 percent of the programs nationwide that had been receiving funding were not renewed.”
After learning of the cuts, Billy said an appeal was made to request a reconsideration for funding.
“We appealed, but never got an answer,” Billy said. “Because of that, we had to close the program Aug. 31. We were optimistic that we would be refunded because of our history as a highly successful program. There were 1,800 applicants and only half were funded. Losing Upward Bound is one of the hardest things I have ever faced as a professional in my career here. I’m so disappointed and can only hope to one day see the program be funded again.”
Billy said the program has served 52 students annually who had the potential to be the first in their families to attend college.
“This program and student success has had a significant impact on this area and communities abroad,” Billy said. “The number of Upward Bound students who have become successful adults proves the program was a success.”