The state is putting its best foot forward to address the continued issues in retaining students who graduate from Alabama universities.

In 2021, Forbes rated Alabama as the third-worst in the nation at retaining its college graduates.

The Alabama Commission on Higher Education (ACHE) has taken notice of the issue and is working with lawmakers and universities.

In Spring 2021, ACHE partnered with Alabama’s 14 public universities to conduct the Retain Alabama Survey. The 20-question survey asked bachelor’s degree students about their plans to seek employment in Alabama after graduation.

The study found that only one-third of Alabama graduates intended to stay in the state post-graduation, while the vast majority remained undecided. Only 23% stated they were definitely not staying in the state after graduation.

ACHE believes the large number of students who are unsure about staying presents an opportunity for the state to encourage and recruit these students to live and work in Alabama after graduation.

The ACHE conducted an additional study that looked at college graduates in 2013 to track where they were employed five years after graduation.

Some 51% of the 2013 bachelor’s degree recipients were employed in Alabama five years later, compared to 71% of associate degree earners. At the graduate level, only  47% of master’s graduates, 29% of doctoral research graduates, and 39% of doctoral professional graduates were still employed in the state five years later.

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey has acknowledged the need to add 500,000 highly skilled employees to meet the state’s workforce needs by 2025.

To assist the state in reaching its workforce goals, lawmakers allocated $800,000 for a new “Retain Alabama” initiative in the 2022 state education budget.

According to Margaret Gunter, the Director of Communications and Governmental Relations for ACHE, the commission has already begun partnering with Alabama universities to help the state maintain more of its graduates.

“What we really want to do is present the state in a positive light for the job opportunities for these students,” Gunter said. … “The state has so much to offer young people when they’re about to go into the job market.”

The program is developing ways to create a relationship between the students and the businesses looking to hire, a relationship which Gunter says has been underemphasized in Alabama universities.

Internships are a way in which those relationships can be developed, as well as seminars, conferences, and loan forgiveness incentive programs for students post-graduation.

“A big key that we are really trying to do is tie together the student population with the business community,” Gunter said. “Higher education has done a good job of educating students. What we need to do now is make them aware of the job possibilities that are here.”

The city of Decatur and Marengo Co. participate in programs that offer to pay a portion of student loans for students that relocate to work in that area.

The students most likely to stay in the state were those receiving degrees in education.

Gunter believes the desire for students to stay in the state is due to the work that lawmakers have done to incentivize jobs for educators, as well as ACHE’s efforts to bring teachers to Alabama through their programs.

ACHE administers the Alabama Math and Science Teacher Education Program (AMSTEP), a federal program authorized by the Alabama Legislature in 2018.

AMSTEP aims to encourage individuals to receive certification in mathematics or science and improve the educational system in Alabama by encouraging those who complete the program to accept math or science teaching positions in Alabama public schools.

“This year, the legislature did a really good job of funding some initiatives to keep teachers in the classroom,” Gunter said. “They’re getting a 4% raise in October, they got a raise last year. When a person has an education degree, that is one area that a student – before they graduate – will have an opportunity to spend some time in the field in a hands-on environment. When they go in to do their student teaching, they will get to see what they’re going to be doing every day.”

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