The Heart of Dixie, Alabama, continues to make its recovery after the Great Recession. According to the U.S. Department of Commerce's Bureau of Economic analysis, the state's economy overall grew at a rate of 0.8 percent in 2013. Despite this moderate economic growth rate, however, Alabama continues to be a strong region not only for potential growth in the near future, but a variety of professional and academic opportunities, especially in metropolitan centers like Birmingham and Mobile. Additionally, Alabama's lower average education costs, combined with lower cost of living, could make it an attractive region for prospective students.
Top Programs and Degrees in Alabama
These are the top degree paths in Alabama based on total fall enrollment in 2012-2013 according to the National Center for Education Statistics' IPEDS database:
- Business, management, marketing and related support services: Slightly more than 12,000 graduates.
- Health professions and related programs degrees. A total of 9,837 individuals in Alabama graduated in 2012-2013 with degrees preparing them for health-related professions.
- Education: 5,509 graduates earning degrees in this field in 2012-2013.
- Liberal arts and sciences, general studies, and the humanities: 5,068 graduates during this time period.
- Homeland Security, law enforcement, firefighting and related protective services: Students' choice of major suggests Alabama may be a very safe place to be, or at least is attractive to individuals with a desire to protect and serve. The data indicate more than 3,500 students graduated with degrees in this field during 2012-2013.
Highlight Careers in Alabama
Here are a few highlight careers in the state of Alabama based on U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data on total in-state employment and median annual salary:
|Career||Total Employment||Median Annual Income|
|Combined Food Preparation and Serving Workers, Including Fast Food||56,540||$18,160|
|Secretaries and Administrative Assistants, Except Legal, Medical, and Executive||45,730||$33,690|
Spotlight Cities and Schools in Alabama
Alabama has 14 public universities and two-year colleges. Public education is governed by the Alabama Commission on Higher Education (ACHE) and the Alabama Department of Post-secondary Education. According to the ACHE, more than 209,000 undergraduate students are enrolled statewide at public institutions, of which more than 169,000 students are Alabama natives. In addition to the public system, Alabama is also home to nearly 20 private post-secondary institutions, including technical and vocational schools.
The capital of Alabama is Montgomery, though the most populous city in the state is Birmingham. Other cities of note in Alabama are Huntsville, Mobile and Tuscaloosa. Students living in or near these cities may have many options of post-secondary institutions. However, with many online schools in Alabama, and colleges and universities offering online programs, individuals living in more rural areas may have access to educational opportunities that would have been out of reach only a generation ago.
Alabama Education Costs and Student Aid
In 2014-2015, tuition and fees costs in the South averaged the following by institution type according to the College Board:
- $3,469 for public two-year in-state
- $8,363 for public four-year in-state
- $27,400 for private nonprofit four-year
It is important to note that despite these averaged figures, prices may vary by individual institutions. Comparatively, Alabama may have a lower cost of living than more urban areas of the country. This makes the Cotton State an attractive option for those interested in pursuing higher education.
ACHE is a useful resource for identifying state financial aid programs for which students might be eligible, such as the Alabama Student Assistance Program and the Alabama Student Grant Program, among others. Of course, eligible students should also file the Free Application for Federal Student Aid.
Alabama Accreditation Standards
Alabama is a member of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools and its affiliate organization, the Southern Association of Community, Junior and Technical Colleges. Students should consider an institution's accreditation status when selecting a college or university. This is because schools operating without accreditation do not have the oversight that accredited institutions do, and, as a result, may not provide students with the skills necessary to obtain a job in today's competitive market.
"Quarterly Gross Domestic Product by State, 2005-2013 (Prototype Statistics)," U.S. Department of Commerce Bureau of Economic Analysis, 25 November 2014, http://bea.gov/newsreleases/regional/gdp_state/qgsp_newsrelease.htm
"Widespread But Slower Growth in 2013," U.S. Department of Commerce Bureau of Economic Analysis, 25 November 2014, http://bea.gov/newsreleases/regional/gdp_state/gsp_newsrelease.htm
"Institutional Student Profiles, Fall 2013," Alabama Commission on Higher Education, 25 November 2014, http://www.ache.state.al.us/Content/Profiles/2013-Profiles/2013-Profiles.aspx
"Student Assistance," Alabama Commission on Higher Education, 25 November 2014, http://www.ache.state.al.us/Content/Departments/StudentAsst/StudentAsst.aspx
"Trends in College Pricing -- Trends in Higher Education -- The College Board," The College Board, December 18, 2014, http://trends.collegeboard.org/college-pricing
"May 2013 State Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates," U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, May 2013, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oessrcst.htm
"IPEDS Data Center," National Center for Education Statistics -- IPEDS Data Center, December 18, 2014, http://nces.ed.gov/ipeds/datacenter/Default.aspx