DHEC in search of 2 year partner

Published 6:01 pm Friday, July 1, 2011

Dozens of local dignitaries descended upon the Demopolis Higher Education Thursday morning for the opportunity to chat with the chancellor of the Alabama Community College System.

While the presence of Dr. Freida Hill was intended to create dialogue about the community college system and its perceived strengths and weaknesses, much of the discourse was monopolized with concerns about the Demopolis Higher Education Center’s need for a two-year college partner.

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“What Demopolis needs is a viable two-year partner,” Demopolis Mayor Mike Grayson pointed out to the chancellor early in the proceedings. “We’ve developed a great two-year, working relationship with Shelton (State Community College). We need your help with this.”

With the Demopolis Higher Education Center having an existing partnership with the University of West Alabama, the focus of the local contingent was the need to develop offerings to develop workforce in the immediate area.

“The current workforce needs for the larger industries are well defined,” Chuck Smith, Chairman of the Workforce Developmental Regional Council for Region 6, said. “What can we do to allow (local students) to leave here with the skills and with the training they will need to be successful?”

“We also have a need for two-year nurses,” Mike Marshall Administrator of Bryan W. Whitfield Memorial Hospital said. “We really have a need for a two-year partner.”

Demopolis’ situation offered no clear cut immediate answers as its location puts it an unfavorable distance from the nearest community college campuses in Thomasville, Tuscaloosa and Selma.

Thursday’s discussions touched on the need for either providing transportation to local individuals seeking courses or workforce training from community as well as the possibility of providing portability to ACCS offerings.

“It all goes back to money,” Hill said.

“The kind of programs you want here are very expensive to start and they are very expensive to maintain. You all need to go to your legislators and tell them, ‘Hey, we need to fund that two-year college system.’”

As discussions carried on, Grayson remarked that solutions to local problems will most likely need to come from local sources.

“We can’t look to Montgomery or Washington to be the end all solution,” Grayson said. “We’re going to have to get creative to solve some of these things.”

As the Chat with the Chancellor neared an end, Demopolis City Councilman Jack Cooley implored Hill for assistance with finding DHEC a two-year partner.

“I would ask that you take this situation back to your board and help us get our situation resolved,” Cooley said.

“We can do that. We just need to get the right people at the table,” Hill retorted before expounding on who the right people may be.

“I’m going to ask the mayor to help us identify who from the community needs to be at the table.”

But as the discourse wound down, Hill pointed out that achieving Demopolis’ desired outcome may be difficult given a lack of specificity on the part of city leadership.

“No one has really said what you want here,” Hill said. “No one has said what you really need.”