FLORENCE — A desire for younger input, the need to promote the area's top statewide ranking in workforce readiness, and the success of Shoals Scholar Dollars were themes mentioned Wednesday during a Greater Shoals working group session.
This was the second session for the Workforce Development and Education working group, which is among six groups that formed as a result of a Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama (PARCA) study released in February. It recommended volunteers take part in groups that focus on specific issues in the Shoals.
Each group will meet three times, then present recommendations during a June 18 overall strategy meeting.
When discussion about the need for young input arose Wednesday, Alvin Rosenbaum, who is overseeing the meetings, said the steering committee has discussed that.
"We've fretted over the notion that they haven't had input, and we've got to do something about it," he said. "We're ready to come to them and listen to them and see what's different from what we're saying and what they're saying."
Rosenbaum, Bank Independent President Macke Mauldin, former University of North Alabama President Robert Potts and Shoals Chamber of Commerce President Caitlin Holland are on the steering committee.
Rosenbaum said every group has brought up Shoals Scholar Dollars as a major plus for the area.
Scholar Dollars is a tuition program to Northwest-Shoals Community College for local high school students. It also provides transfer scholarships to the University of North Alabama.
"We see in all six groups that Shoals Scholar Dollars is on top of the list," Rosenbaum said.
Crystal Reed, assistant dean of Student Success at Northwest-Shoals, cited a dissertation in which she stated that Shoals Scholar Dollar students are twice as likely to graduate from Northwest-Shoals and go on to another institution.
Group members said the Shoals also needs to publicize a finding from the PARCA study that revealed the Shoals Metropolitan Statistical Area has the highest percentage in Alabama of high school seniors who are college- and career-ready.
They added that the Shoals is an a unique education position because it has successful K-12 programs, a two-year college, and a four-year university.
Challenges they mentioned include the state's traditional low national ranking in education.
During the session, the group listed opportunities for and threats to the area. Some opportunities included developing the Tennessee River and music resources to help bring in young people; seeking spin-off companies from the Mazda Toyota Manufacturing plant under construction in Huntsville; and pushing for a statewide lottery to help boost education funding.
Regarding threats, group members said it seems like the Shoals does not receive enough attention from Montgomery; and UNA does not receive enough funding compared to other state universities.
They also listed as threats Huntsville's high-tech industries taking local young graduates from the Shoals; substance abuse among employees and potential employees; stagnant population; and the lack of high-speed Internet.