Birmingham Mayor Pledges Free College Tuition at Alabama Schools

Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin made a surprise announcement on Twitter: beginning in 2020, all graduates of Birmingham City Schools can attend a state college with their tuition free.

“Starting in 2020, any Birmingham City School student that walks across the graduation stage will have the opportunity to attend any in-state two or four year school tuition free,” Woodfin wrote. He later clarified that students will be covered if they attend any public, in-state two-year or four-year school where they are admitted.

The initiative is part of a public-private partnership called the Birmingham Promise, which pledged in June to provide funding for 20 rising seniors or recent graduates to work in the city for seven weeks, according to AL.com. The program included at least one student from each Birmingham city high school.

In June, the mayor said he wanted to allocate $2 million to the Birmingham Promise of the proposed $451 million budget for the next fiscal year. According to AL.com, Woodfin said the program would give high school juniors and seniors apprenticeships in local businesses. The $65,000 apprenticeship pilot program was approved by the Birmingham City Council.

“It’s time for the city to be bold. What better way to be bold but to invest in our youngest generation. This is not some feel good project,” Woodfin said, according to WBRC.

Under the new proposal, students will receive funds for tuition costs not covered by scholarships or federal assistance, WBRC reported. Funding will be contingent on how long students have attended Birmingham schools. Those who have attended Birmingham schools for 12 years will receive the full amount, while those who have attended for a shorter period will receive aid based on the number of years they did attend.

“If you have been in another system, K-11 in another city and decide to move to the city and send your child to a city school their senior year, you will only get 1/12th of that free tuition,” Woodfin explained.

Although state-level college assistance programs have failed in the past, Woodfin claimed this program would succeed, WBRC reported. Woodfin said the city would cover the cost of tuition through a public-private partnership.

“Birmingham is making the initial investments over the next five years with a minimum of $10 million to support the Birmingham Promise,” Woodfin said, according to WIAT. “The remaining of the majority of these monies will be lead by private donors and fundraisers.”

The Birmingham Promise is accepting donations online and through the mail. It is unclear how much money has been raised for the proposal. The Mayor’s office did not immediately respond to The North Star’s request for information about the funds raised through donations.

College tuition costs and student debt are key issues among Democrats vying for the presidential nomination. Both Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) proposed plans to eliminate part or all student loan debt.

In June, Warren and Representative James Clyburn (D-S.C.) introduced legislation to eliminate student loan debt for millions of Americans. The bicameral legislation proposed for giving up to $50,000 in student loan debt for 42 million Americans. The bill would cancel student debt completely for 75 percent of borrowers and provide debt relief for 95 percent of student borrowers.

Warren, who is running for the Democratic presidential nomination, released a plan in April that is similar to the proposed bill.

Sanders, a lead contender in the Democratic race, also released proposals to completely erase all student debt and make college free in the United States. In June, the senator from Vermont proposed making two- and four-year public and tribal colleges and universities tuition free and debt-free, Vox reported. Sanders’ proposal also aimed to eliminate all student loan debt owed in the US, approximately $1.6 trillion, by levying a tax on Wall Street.

Unlike Warren’s plan, Sanders student loan debt forgiveness would be available to all Americans, regardless of their income or assets. Warren’s free college proposal caps debt forgiveness for households with incomes over $250,000.

Sanders’ plan would cost $2.2 trillion over a decade, which would reportedly be paid for with his Wall Street tax. Economist Robert Pollin projected the progressive tax would bring in $2.4 trillion over 10 years, Sanders’ office said.


About the Author

Nicole Rojas is a breaking news writer for The North Star. She has published in various publications, including Newsweek, GlobalPost, IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly, and the Long Island Post. Nicole graduated from Boston University in 2012 with a degree in print journalism. She is an avid world traveler who recently explored Asia and Australia.