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Kiwanis Club speaker touts education

By Patrice Stewart
pstewart@decaturdaily.com 340-2446

Students must be better educated and trained or the work force is in danger, the president of the Alabama Association of Independent Colleges and Universities said Thursday.

"We need to start at kindergarten or pre-kindergarten and look all the way through college," making sure that at each level, students meet the requirements before going on to the next, said Paul Hankins.

He told the Kiwanis Club of Decatur that in Alabama, for every 100 students entering ninth grade, only 59 graduate from high school. About 32 will immediately enter college, but only 22 will still be enrolled the second year.

Only 12 will graduate, either with an associate's degree within three years or a bachelor's degree within six years. Those numbers place Alabama 44th or lower nationally.

The number of remedial courses students must take when they arrive at college (63 percent at two-year colleges and 44 percent at four-year institutions) needs attention, too, Hankins said. Those courses don't earn credits, and "many students run out of money before they get a degree."

He recommends incentives. Some states, for example, guarantee a four-year scholarship to students who take college-prep courses, keep their grades up, stay out of trouble and graduate in four years. Later, incentives could include forgiving student loans when students go into certain fields, he said.

In seven years, 12 of the 20 fastest-growing jobs will be in health care and five will be in information technology, Hankins said.

He said it requires 2.3 children per family to sustain the work force, and in countries such as France, England and Japan, that number has declined to 1.4. Japan closed 800 schools last year because of a lack of students.

The U.S. is at two children per family, but immigration is largely the reason, he said.

"These figures should get your attention," he said. "We've got a long way to go on higher education in this state."

Hankins, a Knoxville native and retired Air Force general, was introduced by Barrett C. Shelton Jr. Hankins represents his 14-member association before the governor and Legislature and assists in scholarship fundraising.

His members are Birmingham-Southern College, Concordia College, Huntingdon College, Faulkner University, Judson College, Miles College, Oakwood College, Samford University, Regions University, Spring Hill College, Stillman College, Talladega College, the University of Mobile and United States Sports Academy.

"We have a higher proportion of minority students attending our colleges than the public four-year institutions do," said Hankins. About 91 percent of 24,000-plus students qualify for student aid.

Hankins said that at the independent colleges, 62 percent of operating costs come from tuition and fees and 38 percent come from other sources. At public colleges, state funding exceeds tuition.

The independent colleges gave out $77 million in direct student aid in 2005 and represent 16 percent of bachelor's degrees awarded in the state each year, he said.

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