University of Alabama at Birmingham President Ray Watts and Birmingham Mayor William Bell announced a partnership yesterday designed to promote college admission and provide scholarships to area high school students.
Watts, joined by Bell and Birmingham City Schools Superintendent Craig Witherspoon, said that the new initiative will increase opportunities for all students from Birmingham schools seeking education at UAB and benefit the university’s multifaceted mission of education, research, service and economic development.
“While we serve a diverse population with students from at least 100 countries — and our reach continues to expand — UAB remains committed to our local communities right here in Birmingham,” Watts said. “That is one reason why I am proud to announce that Birmingham City Schools is willing to partner with UAB to expand the reach of these new enrollment initiatives.”
Under the Blazing Start initiative, UAB will work closely with guidance counselors from the seven city high schools — Carver, Huffman, Jackson-Olin, Parker, Ramsay, Wenonah and Woodlawn — to enroll students lacking in certain admissions criteria.“This partnership is about making it easier for our high school students in the Birmingham City Schools to transition to UAB,” Watts said.
In the past, Watts explained, students have been admitted based on the ACT entrance exam. Making the contention that such admissions exam results can sometimes be “arbitrary,” Watts said that the university wants to help those students who may not pass the minimum standards, but show “clear-cut academic potential and are known by their teachers to be hardworking.”
Incoming freshman admitted under this program will be limited to a 12-hour course load, will receive special advising and will be required to take a skills development course.
The new scholarship program under the Blazing Start initiative would award Birmingham City Schools graduates up to $10,500 over four years, with eligible freshmen receiving $1,500, and increased awards in sequential years. These students would be required to enroll full-time the fall semester after high school graduation, and maintain satisfactory academic progress.
For the time being, this program will not extend to Shelby or Jefferson County School students. The reason? UAB is “planted in the center of Birmingham, and we’re growing closer to the city center, not further away,” Watts said.
After being asked why the university would want to partner with the school system in the midst of its current problems – turmoil on the school board and state takeover of the financial control of the system, which includes plans to close schools, let go of teachers, principals and other staff members — Watts reiterated that the partnership is focused to promoting the success of the students. “We don’t want to just admit more students. We want to educate them and help them graduate,” he said.
Both Bell and Witherspoon expressed agreement that, despite the issues facing the city schools and the Board of Education in the coming months, this new partnership was an important step for the university, community, and city. Witherspoon said the partnership would serve as a lure to bring more people into the city, and, at the same time, dropped the news that Ramsay High School had been authorized for an international baccalaureate program.
“We have an opportunity to say to a prospective student, ‘If you want an international baccalaureate program, you can get it in Birmingham now,’” Witherspoon said. He explained that this raises the curriculum of Ramsay to an international standard – Jefferson County currently has an international baccalaureate program — which would become a “drawing card” for new business and industry in the city.
If approved for international programs at the primary and middle school level, Birmingham would become the second district in Alabama to offer all three levels.
Officials also announced that in a joint admissions program, students who complete an associate’s degree at a partnering community college will become eligible for admittance to UAB as a junior student and qualify for a $2,000 scholarship, provided they have come from a Birmingham city school.