New report shows Birmingham Southern College generates nearly $100 million in economic impact for the state each year

Published: Feb. 15, 2023 at 11:54 PM CST
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BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WBRC) - WBRC is learning more about how much of an economic impact Birmingham Southern College provides locally and statewide.

This new study comes as the college is asking state leaders for $37 million to help prevent them from closing their doors at the end of this semester.

WBRC spoke with College President Daniel Coleman at a letter writing pop-up event at Highlands United Methodist Church in Birmingham. He said they conducted this independent study because they are asking the state for public dollars to help them stay afloat, and he wanted to make sure it would be a worthy investment for the state

According to a study by an independent economist, Birmingham-Southern College provides a $97 million economic impact in the state each year. The study said about $70 million are spent directly in Jefferson County.

Coleman said it’s because they bring in around 1,000 students and their families to spend money in the area. If the college has to close, he said the community will immediately feel that impact.

“It would be heartbreaking,” Coleman said. “Economically for the city, it would be a disaster. Our impact over 10 years is close to $1 billion and we have about 17,000 alums. About 9,500 live in Alabama, about 6,600 work in Alabama, and the economic impact of our alums is more like $211 million a year.”

Coleman said they only have a formal ask for funds with the state. They have only had conversations with the city and county, but don’t plan on formally asking for any money. It will be a few weeks before they learn if they were awarded the funds to stay open.

“Frankly, we are running out of money and running out of time,” Coleman said. “If we don’t get the funds, I don’t believe there will be a semester in the fall.”

Coleman said the college has been operating under financial stress for the 10 to 12 years.

“The college invested in some things that didn’t work out, especially in building out the campus around 2005 through 2010. The last ten to twelve years, the college has been operating under a distressed financial situation. What we are asking for is approximately $37 million, but it would fill a gap for three years and that would enable us to continue to raise about $200 million in private funds. We are about 25 percent of the way there.”

President Coleman said that raising tuition isn’t an option to bring in more money and being chartered as a public school, instead of a private institution, wouldn’t change much financially for them either.

“Well all that does is mean we ask the state for money every year,” Coleman said. “I don’t think that is really what a lot of other public institutions want to see us do, so I don’t see that as an alternative.”

“There are two sources of funds. One is the American Recovery Plan Act, which is federal tax dollars allocated to the state. There is about a billion left and we believe we qualify for about $12.5 million. This has nothing to do with our financial situation, this is just what we believe we qualify for under the act. The other would have to come from somewhere else. The place we have discussed is the education surplus. We are looking at about .7 percent of the surplus and our ask would be a one time ask of about $17.5 million.”

He said they are doing everything they can to stay open. They are meeting with each student one-on-one to come up with a plan, in case they need to transfer.

“Our students are focused on the moment and enjoying college,” Coleman said. “They know in six to eight weeks, or some period of time, there may be some big decisions. We are sitting down with every single student who has different needs. Starting with our juniors, who are halfway through our majors, and trying to outline to them. If we don’t make it, what they need to do, and where they can complete their major and what would be a good fit for them.”

President Coleman said the college likely won’t file for bankruptcy. He said they are also still getting new applications everyday for the upcoming potential fall semester.

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