Southern Union president discusses new agreement

Published 1:51 pm Friday, July 19, 2019

LANETT — An agreement announced this week between Southern Union State Community College and Auburn University at Montgomery (AUM) is the first of several similar agreements between SUSCC and other four-year colleges in Alabama.

Southern Union President Todd Shackett discussed this at Thursday’s meeting of the West Point Rotary Club.

He said that there is a memorandum of understanding (MOU) between Southern Union and AUM that will allow the student to start out at Southern Union and transfer to AUM, earning a four-year degree in less time and at much less expense than attendance at a major university like Auburn.

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“You can save $25,000 to $30,000 by getting that degree by doing this, compared to going to Auburn University for four years,” he said. “The community college system is the only opportunity for some young people to get a college education.”

According to the announced agreement, AUM will be offering an unlimited number of transfer scholarships for Southern Union students who complete their associate in arts or associate in science degrees and earn admittance to AUM by May 1 of each year.

Transfer students with a cumulative grade point average of 3.5 or higher will receive $2,500 per year, while students with a GPA between 3.0 and 3.49 will receive $1,000 per year.

“We will have this same agreement with Jacksonville State University, Troy University and Alabama State University,” Shackett told the Rotarians. “We are trying to be smart about it. The more options we can give our students, the better.”

Shackett said Southern Union’s medical assistant program is something the school has had great success with. This training will allow a young person to start out as a medical assistant, something that can lead to being an LPN, an RN and perhaps a medical doctor.

“It puts you on a medical education path,” Shackett said.

Shackett said he can relate to this from his own experience. “While working for General Motors in Michigan, I started out sweeping floors and wound up doing just about every job in the plant. It was part of work-based study, and it was a good experience for me.”

It’s a goal for Southern Union to triple its enrollment in technical education and for all students to have some kind of work-based study.

Video streaming is available for students from the Valley who don’t want to drive to Opelika for classes. There’s also what’s known as Saturday college.

“It’s for those who have work or family obligations and can’t go to school on the week days,” Shackett said. “They can go to classes on Saturdays and earn a degree in five semesters.”

Overall, an emphasis is being placed on teaching courses that lead to high skill, high wage and high demand jobs.

“We have some emerging needs with John Soules Foods coming to Valley,” Shackett said. “We want to get in on the front end of that, preparing today’s students for good-paying jobs that are on the way.”

Southern Union has three campuses — the traditional main campus in Wadley, which has a very active sports program; the Valley campus and the big campus in Opelika. Wadley has an average of 650 students, Valley 250 and Opelika 3,800.

“Some students will go to one of our campuses just to take one course,” Shackett said. “When you add it all together, our total enrollment comes to an average of 6,180 students being served.”

Shackett said Southern Union’s dual enrollment had been growing significantly in recent years.

“High school students can start this in the tenth grade,” he said. “They are earning college credits they can carry with them.”

A program that’s growing in popularity is one that trains students to be a physical therapy assistant.

“There’s only four or five schools in the state that are doing this right now, and it’s a field in demand,” Shackett said. “Industrial technicians and health science graduates are hard to come by. They can’t find enough nurses, and teachers, especially those in math and science, are hard to come by.”

Shackett said there had been some instances of 20-year-olds coming through Southern Union’s technical program and making $85,000 a year.

Southern Union is now working with District Court Judge Calvin Milford is a recidivism program that’s designed to teach job skills to youthful offenders who have gotten in trouble with the law.

It’s not for those who have committed violent crime, but could be ideal for a one-time offender who may have committed a property crime.

“We are working on getting them job skills where they can be productive and law abiding when they get out,” Shackett said. “We are also transitioning veterans into the work force. We are working with the military on this. Those who have been in the service and have experience working on military vehicles can be prepared for jobs that pay in the $75,000-a-year range.”