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Merger nearing finish

Colleges will operate as Coastal Alabama in January

STORY BY MICHELE GERLACH OF THE ANDALUSIA STAR-NEWS

The merger that will make Jefferson Davis Community College part of Coastal Alabama Community College is still days away from final approval, but the man who will lead the transition says the change will be good for the local institution.

The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools’ (SACS) Commission on Colleges is expected to give final approval of the merger of Faulkner State, Jefferson Davis and Alabama Southern community colleges; and Reid State Technical College at its meeting in Atlanta next week. The colleges are expected to begin operating as Coastal Alabama when students return in January.

Monday, current Faulkner State president, Dr. Gary Branch, who will have oversight of the new institution, outlined the process ahead.

Branch said mergers planned across the state in the two-year college system are necessary for smaller schools to survive. At present, the legislature funds the system, and those funds are divided from the state administrative level. However, that will change.

“Performance-based funding is coming,” Branch said. “For some of the schools to survive, they have to become part of larger schools.”

Through a years-long process, he said, the system will become more efficient, operating with fewer employees.

“Now, we have three or four deans of students, deans of instructions and business managers,” Branch said.

JDCC, Reid State and Alabama Southern each have interim presidents, as well. Once the institutions are merged, a provost will manage each campus.

“And provosts make a lot less presidents,” he said.

“Through years of evolution you’ll see colleges running more and more efficiently,” he said.

Branch said the smaller schools also will benefit from regional advertising and branding funded by what is now the larger school. This year JDCC had a $15,000 budget for public relations. Faulkner State’s budget was $500,000.

“I’m sort of like Nick Saban,” he said of his plans to grow enrollment across the new institution. “There’s a process. We will follow a process.”

Branch said he believes not only in advertising, but also in producing high-quality brochures, spending time in the schools and doing all that is possible to attract students.

“We sell a product, and that’s higher education,” he said. “If you are not out in the community, and recruiting in high schools and college fairs, you can’t be successful.”

Jefferson Davis has room to grow,” Branch continued. “The plan is to start with dual enrollment which allows qualified high school students to simultaneously earn high school and college credits. We are already working with (Brewton Mayor Yank Lovelace), the superintendent and the director at the technical center. If we do this, we can create more opportunities for students and scholarships for them.”

Community colleges will play a vital role in preparing students for the workforce in Alabama, he said, adding that only three of 10 jobs in Alabama require a four-year or advanced degrees; the rest, an associate’s degree or skills training.

“We will be responsible for training 60 percent of the labor market,” Branch said. “The system conferred more than 10,500 degrees and certificates last year.”