It’s not about Birmingham-Southern College; it’s about the residents of Birmingham.
That’s what Birmingham City Council President Wardine Alexander said Tuesday in her dissent from passage of a resolution pledging city dollars to support BSC, a private college, if the institution is able to obtain additional funding from the state.
In prepared remarks, Alexander said that her vote against the resolution reflected her legislative priorities.
“Birmingham-Southern is a private college. I would like to see if we get going to give aid to Birmingham-Southern that we think very closely about what we give to our neighborhoods,” Alexander said.
The councilor said she has yet to see data from the college related to the number of students or employees from the area immediately around BSC.
“If the next step is to provide Birmingham-Southern an amount between $2.5 (million) to $5 million, we are taking away nearly $600,000 from each of our council districts,” she said.
Alexander emphasized that tuition at Lawson State Community College, located near BSC, is less than half that of the private college.
“Let’s help Lawson State when they need help,” she added. “At this time, this particular resolution just does not fit into my legislative priorities. If $2.5 or $5 million is available for use, I would ask that we use it towards paving more streets, adding more grocery stores, helping our students overcome challenges posed by the Alabama Literacy Act and expanding broadband access to our citizens.
The average cost of attendance at BSC was about $37,470 for the 2020-2021 school year, according to federal data, just shy of the median household income in the Magic City.
Councilor J.T. Moore introduced and spoke in favor of the resolution, which states that “the Birmingham City Council of the City of Birmingham, with Mayor Randall L. Woodfin concurring, shall commit one-time funding to Birmingham Southern College.”
“I know that there are those who are the school of thought that, you know, this is not something that the city should have to support or should have to be involved in,” he said. “And then there are those who feel as though we don’t want to end up with another situation where we have another Caraway property – vacancy – in our city.”
Moore said conversations with the college’s staff had left him “reassured” that “we don’t have to worry about being back in this situation again.”
Moore said he hopes the college continues to invest in Birmingham and its students as it moves forward.
“We wanted to make sure that, you know, BSC continues to invest in our schools as well,” he said. “So having more service learning opportunities for their students, where they can, you know, help with, you know, our students in Birmingham City Schools.”
Gov. Kay Ivey had initially said she opposed a taxpayer-funded bailout of the private college but signed a law earlier this year setting up a loan program for “distressed” educational institutions.
BSC has requested $30 million from the state and $5 million each from the city of Birmingham and Jefferson County.
Birmingham-Southern College was formed in 1918 from the merger of two smaller Methodist schools, Birmingham College and Southern University. More than a thousand students attend the college, which is located in the Bush Hills neighborhood.
After years of financial setbacks, the college was on the verge of closing, but the board of trustees voted this spring to keep it open while pursuing government funding.