Birmingham-Southern College is a good investment for Alabama

Published 11:16 am Thursday, February 23, 2023

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By Sen. Rodger Smitherman and Sen. Jabo Waggoner

For more than 100 years, Birmingham-Southern College has been a pillar of Birmingham, Jefferson County, and the State of Alabama. It has educated many of the business, civic, and governmental leaders throughout our state for decades. That’s one reason it would be a tragedy of the highest order if we lose it.

But there’s another—even more important—reason we need to do everything we can to ensure the future of Birmingham-Southern: It is vitally important to our economy.

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In addition to providing a high-quality education that prepares a diverse student body for lives of purpose and substance, BSC—year after year after year—has been an economic engine, helping its neighborhood, its city, its county, and its state become more dynamic and innovative. The college also provides 300 direct and another 100 indirect jobs.

An independent study by the economist who has helped the State of Alabama attract major manufacturing firms shows BSC generates a direct economic impact of $97.2 million each year. In other words, an investment of $35 million by the public sector could return nearly $1 billion in economic impact over the next 10 years.

Clearly, losing BSC would be a hard economic blow to Birmingham that would reverberate across our state and beyond—at a time when we can ill afford it.

Precedent Favors Such a Plan

As long-serving members of the Alabama Legislature with more than 65 years of combined legislative experience, we know that public funds are appropriated every year for private entities, including schools. Providing bridge funding to Birmingham-Southern College will not set any troublesome precedent.

In the last fiscal year alone, more than $60 million was appropriated from the Education Trust Fund for worthy private entities, including private schools.

Moreover, the 1901 Alabama Constitution includes a provision for such state support. Section 73 expressly provides a mechanism by which the Legislature can appropriate funds “to private charitable and educational institutions not under the control of the State.”

Thus, our Legislature has been authorized to provide exactly the kind of state assistance BSC is seeking for more than 120 years.

A Bridge to the Future

The good news is that Birmingham-Southern College isn’t asking for support from the public sector on an annual basis. Here’s the situation:

BSC has already raised nearly $46 million in documented commitments toward a $200 million endowment fund goal. It is on track to meet that goal by May 2026.

To give BSC enough time to raise the remainder of the endowment and to give it breathing room to operate, the college has proposed a one-time contribution of bridge funding from state government of $30 million as well as $5 million from the City of Birmingham and $2.5 million from Jefferson County.

In other words, BSC has a workable plan to put itself back on a sound – and lasting – financial footing. We are confident it will not have to come back to the State years from now for further assistance. But BSC needs our help in this one fiscal year to allow the college time to raise the private funds that will ensure its long-term success. Fortunately, their request comes at a time of historically large surpluses in State coffers.

As officials in state government representing Jefferson County, we have each pledged our support for the request, which represents a mere fraction of BSC’s annual economic impact on Birmingham.

We call upon our fellow legislators and interested citizens to join with us in supporting a one-time investment for Birmingham-Southern College. BSC is an historic and outstanding institution, and we look forward to seeing the college flourish yet again in the very near future.

Sen. Rodger Smitherman has represented Alabama’s 18th District since 1995. His record of service includes two years as President Pro Tem of the Senate and key positions on the Finance and Taxation, Education and Judiciary Committees. Sen. James T. “Jabo” Waggoner, a 1960 BSC alumnus and the son of two BSC graduates, has represented Alabama’s 16th district since 1990. He chairs the Senate Rules Committee.