Alabama editorial roundup
Recent editorials from Alabama newspapers:
Opelika-Auburn News on the search for a missing woman which has gained national attention:
Once again we find ourselves grappling with potential tragedy; this one involving a violent crime, and this time with a young lady who remains missing.
And, once again, a united effort exists to create a loving, caring, support system and what we hope are positive answers to negative questions.
Aniah Blanchard, 19, remained missing as of this writing late Tuesday.
Her car was found recently in Montgomery, apparently with enough evidence in it to indicate to investigators that at least some level of foul play has occurred with Aniah. Nevertheless, family and friends continue to hold out hope that she will be found alive.
Aniah is a student at Southern Union State Community College in Opelika, a recent resident of Auburn, and a native of Homewood in the Birmingham area.
Today, however, the entire state of Alabama seems ready to claim her, find her, and ensure that she comes home to her family desperate to have her found.
That interest now is spreading on a national level, even more so with the addition this week of the high-profile Texas EquuSearch mounted search-and-recovery team joining the hunt for Aniah.
Regardless of the final outcome, Aniah’s disappearance already should serve as a stark reminder of the need for constant guard and attention to everyday safety rules, such as the need for awareness or escort when walking into a dark parking lot at night, keeping car doors locked, the old “stranger danger” guard, and other methods of self-defense and precautions.
Local prayer vigils and services being conducted to share prayer and support for Aniah and her family is a good indicator of how we care for one another.
Let’s hope it is enough to help in bringing Aniah safely home, in helping her family and searchers find at least some level of comfort, and that others learn important insight that might in the future spare them from similar fate.
Meanwhile, as the meaningful saying goes: If you know something, say something.
Contact your local law enforcement agency to help if you have information about the whereabouts of Aniah Blanchard.
And for the rest of us: Keep praying for the best possible outcome.
The Florence TimesDaily on an increase in enrollment at an Alabama university while national and state trends show a decrease at four-year public institutions:
The University of North Alabama’s fall enrollment figures suggest the university’s aggressive recruitment efforts are paying off handsomely.
Figures released Friday indicate 8,046 students are enrolled at UNA this fall, which is a 5.8% increase over the enrollment in the fall of 2018, or about 400 more than a year ago.
That one-year increase is more than double the growth rate the university recorded from 2017 to 2018.
To understand the significance of the growth you have to compare it to national trends, which have indicated a small decrease each semester since Fall 2017.
According to term enrollment estimates published every December and May by the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, enrollment trends for four-year public institutions across the U.S. have slipped the past 2 years.
Fall 2017 saw enrollment nationwide slide -.2%.
The Spring 2018 semester also saw enrollment slip -.2%.
There was no gain in the Fall 2018 semester.
The Spring 2019 semester saw an estimated enrollment decline of -.9%.
UNA officials are well aware of those trends, and that makes the university’s growth pattern something to brag about.
“Record enrollment at UNA indicates we’re moving in the right direction,” said Ross Alexander, provost and vice president of Academic Affairs. “Many other institutions in our state and region aren’t experiencing this kind of growth.”
National Student Clearinghouse Research Center state figures for the Spring 2019 semesters agree. Statewide, post-secondary enrollment in four-year public universities and colleges was down about half a percentage point — dropping from 271,867 in 2018 to 270,492 last spring.
UNA’s most significant increase has come in online graduate students. That gain is the result of several programs the university has started that are geared specifically to that market.
It’s a “sophisticated, intentional, smart growth” marketing approach that’s working nicely, said Alexander.
UNA officials are confident they can maintain a “healthy” growth rate of 3% to 5%, which Alexander says in “in line with our infrastructure limitations.”
But state funding discrepancies continue to be an area of concern for the university. President Dr. Ken Kitts has moved to tackle the funding discrepancy with a program called “Project 208.” State lawmakers took some steps in the 2019 session to try to fix the inequities in funding. As a result, UNA received an 8.5% increase in funding.
That helps, but more must be done, stressed Alexander.
“UNA remains the lowest-funded institution in the state of Alabama,” he said. “While we grow in number of students, our funding per student goes down.”
Hopefully, if UNA can sustain the 3% to 5% growth it is shooting for it will force state lawmakers to take notice when it comes time to make those annual funding decisions.
The Gadsden Times on a partnership to develop federal land that has been approved by the Alabama Community College System Board of Trustees:
Roughly a month ago, we called a partnership between the City of Gadsden and Gadsden State Community College to develop land behind the college’s Wallace Drive campus for community recreational use “an idea worth considering.”
Some details still need to be finalized, but we feel confident in saying that partnership has moved from potentiality to reality, given that the Alabama Community College System Board of Trustees has signed off on it, and college and city officials presented it to the public last week at a major press event.
We also are prepared to drop our previous hesitation and support not just the discussion, but the execution of this proposal.
Rewinding the details: The city will spend between $8 million and $10 million to develop the property — known in the past as GSCC’s “Back 40,” adjacent to the Coosa River — for youth soccer fields and other recreational use. (There’s been talk of bicycle and walking trails, and possibly extending the current boardwalk on the river to the area.) The money is budgeted and work should move quickly once grace is said over the final plan.
The city won’t be stepping onto unfamiliar ground; it’s leased portions of the property for youth sports fields for close to 30 years. As City Council President Cynthia Toles observed, “We’re investing in what we’ve already got.”
The idea of the area being a community recreation hub isn’t new, either; we previously cited the crowds that were back there in the days when adult slow-pitch softball was so popular and GSCC had a four-field complex.
This benefits GSCC by getting potential “customers” on campus to see what the college has to offer (which as we’ve noted is substantial).
This benefits the city by giving youth sports teams adequate places to play (that’s also not a new quest; kids were looking for sandlots generations ago) and furthering its quest to develop the riverfront, something that again has been long overdue.
We acknowledge those who disagree with that focus, who cite the various and legitimate needs in their specific sections of Gadsden, and who regard riverfront development as folly and the city just trying to copy places like Chattanooga, Tennessee. We’ll offer the cliché “a rising tide lifts all boats,” note for the “fix the potholes” brigade that the City Council this week approved more than $1 million in additional funding for street paving and point out that anyone who’s seen the activity and vibrancy along the Tennessee River in Chattanooga knows it’s not a bad model for other cities with riverfronts (not that Gadsden is playing copycat).
We also acknowledge those who ask, “What about the sports complex that’s being built in Rainbow City?” What’s envisioned at GSCC is a place for local kids to play recreational sports. The Etowah County Mega Sports Complex, although its backers are making noises otherwise with the announcement of the city-county partnership, always was aimed at cashing in on the travel ball craze that involves more serious athletes with parents who do more serious spending. It’s not just apples and oranges, it’s apples and persimmons.
Something else to consider: The land at the college is designated as a federal park and is restricted to public use; it can’t be used for any commercial or educational reason.
We’ll certainly listen to anyone who has a better idea for what to do with it, given those constraints, than giving kids more places to play ball (that’s another of those quality of life considerations we keep hammering, and which industrial developers take very seriously), putting GSCC in the spotlight and helping make Gadsden’s riverfront the showpiece it should’ve been decades ago.
We’re not expecting an inundation of responses — and doing nothing and letting the grass grow isn’t an acceptable alternative.