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There’s one part of Wallace’s legacy worth protecting: Our community colleges

By Rep. Darrio Melton

While Governor George Wallace is best known for his stand in the schoolhouse door, he is also responsible for establishing a community college system that made a huge impact on rural and middle-income families.

Wallace wanted to be sure that a junior college education was within reach for every Alabama student to better prepare them for study at a four-year institution or enter the job market trained in a trade.

Fast forward 50 years and our junior college system is struggling to meet the needs of Alabama families.

Our community colleges, like all of Alabama’s schools, are struggling to keep qualified instructors in the classrooms at pay far below what the private sector would offer. Instructors for programs like welding and electronics are leaving the community college system in favor of more lucrative private-sector jobs, leaving students with patchwork-solutions.

Unfortunately, the pay scale and funding for junior college professors is set by the state, so community college administrators’ hands are tied: they can’t offer increases in salary or implement development programs to supplement their budgets.

Meanwhile, the Alabama Community College System has a plan to combine several rural two-year colleges around the state to establish a regional community college program.

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When Governor Wallace established the junior college program, he designed it so that no student would have to drive too far to obtain a quality education. Yet merging these programs while cutting the budgets creates a significant risk of our community colleges being neither quality nor accessible.

If we expect students to grow and achieve to provide for themselves and their families, it is our job to provide the resources for them to do so.

This means we absolutely must pay our instructors like the professionals they are so that our community colleges offer quality instruction, and we must keep the doors open to junior colleges across the state so that they are accessible to all students so we can move Alabama boldly forward.

Rep. Darrio Melton is a Democrat from Selma. He was elected to the Alabama House of Representatives in 2010 and currently serves as the Chair of the House Democratic Caucus.

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