Pictured, standing, from left: Chamber President & CEO Heather Brothers New, JSU Director of Undergraduate Admissions Lauren Findley, JSU Vice President for Enrollment Management Dr. Emily Messer. Seated, from left: Chamber Board Chair Morgan Lavender and JSU President Don Killingsworth sign the partnership for a tuition discount for Chamber members.
By Katie Bohannon, News Editor
The Chamber of Gadsden & Etowah County announced an exciting alliance with Jacksonville State University on Thursday, May 20, which will provide groundbreaking educational opportunities to Chamber members throughout the community.
Just a few short months after forging a partnership with the Calhoun County Area Chamber and Visitors Center, JSU will offer Gadsden & Etowah County Chamber members a 20 percent tuition discount beginning in Fall 2021.
The corporate tuition scholarship is awarded per semester to both full and part-time workers employed by Chamber members. In addition, the $35 application fee is waived to contribute to savings.
Chamber President & CEO Heather Brothers New reiterated the incredible nature of the partnership, which coincides with the Chamber’s mission of bettering its community at all facets. She and Chamber Board Chair Morgan Lavender welcomed community partners to a special signing ceremony to commemorate the unified endeavor.
“When I think about this [partnership], on behalf of the Board of Directors as a former JSU alumnus, this is so exciting to me,” said Lavender. “I think it just echoes that we want to be a catalyst for economic growth here. When I think of this, I think of the word hope.”
Lavender reflected on the challenges that arose in 2020 and its impact on education. She also shared recent discussion with Chamber members and their employees who seek to further their education – a dream the partnership with JSU manifests at a much more economical cost.
“Maybe some had to drop out of schools and take care of their families when they were younger or maybe it’s a young person who just needs that extra financial boost to get started,” said Lavender. “I think there’s so much opportunity out there for people realizing their dreams and continuing higher education.”
JSU President Don Killingsworth emphasized the importance of the partnership, which intertwines with Governor Kay Ivey’s “Success Plus” Initiative in 2018. The initiative addresses Alabama’s goal of increasing its number of workers with credentials, certificates or degrees to accompany a high school diploma by the year 2025. Killingsworth noted that JSU is active in its efforts to assist the state and encourage citizens to pursue greater educational opportunities available.
Though the scholarship is not retroactive and cannot be combined with other university-funded scholarships and discounts, Killingsworth hopes employers will use the partnership as an opportunity to implement corporate matching programs to lower the cost of tuition even further. He noted that JSU has not raised tuition in the past five years to ensure the cost of education does not hinder students from achieving their goals.
“Only 20 percent of Alabamians have a bachelor’s degree,” said Killingsworth. “We can do better. If we need to offer a tuition discount to get more people to [achieve] a bachelor’s degree, then so be it. I know once they get that degree it changes their lives forever and it changes their communities forever.”
The partnership itself sparked from JSU’s investment in the Chamber and its longstanding relationship with Etowah County. While the university maintained a presence in Gadsden for several years with the Joe Ford Economic Development Center at Gadsden State Community College, its involvement with that particular endeavor ceased. Killingsworth strives to rekindle JSU’s footprint in Etowah County, which serves as the second-leading recruitment area for JSU students.
“We understand the importance of Etowah County,” said Killingsworth. “Etowah County is extremely important to the overall success and health of our institution. We’re trying to do everything we can to help the state, and we offer degrees that can help the local population here in Etowah County.”
Personal connections abound between JSU and the Chamber, with New and Lavender both alumnae of the university and current JSU Director of Undergraduate Admissions Lauren Findley (a Southside native) a participant in the Chamber’s Leadership Etowah program. Vice President for Enrollment Management Dr. Emily Messer – also from Gadsden – discussed the logistics of the program, which covers undergraduate and graduate courses.
Messer also introduced JSU’s new “Try It” free course, geared toward individuals considering returning to college, but wish to explore the process first. The online course, Social Work 306: Stress, Coping & Resilience, earns students three undergraduate credit hours with a self-paced, pass or no credit grading policy. The course begins in Fall 2021 and no tuition, fees or textbook charges are required to enroll.
For more information on the scholarship, visit www.jsu.edu/partnerships/gadsdenchamber/index.html.