At the pinnacle

College of Education alumna works to build a better workforce for the state of Alabama

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Frieda Hill speaks at Alabama's Faulkner State Community College spring. Special

Freida Hill, the first female chancellor of Alabama’s Community College System, is a self-proclaimed lifelong learner. She knows the value of education.

Hill (MEd ’82, EdD ’92), began her 37-year career as a high school English teacher in Tennessee. She moved from there into Georgia’s community and technical colleges and climbed into the leadership ranks, becoming vice president for economic development of Gwinnett Technical College, then president of Southwest Georgia Technical College and finally deputy commissioner for the Technical College System of Georgia.

But last year, Hill reached what she calls the pinnacle of her career when she was chosen as chancellor of the Alabama Community College System, where she oversees both academic and technical colleges.

Part of Hill’s mission in Alabama is workforce and economic development, and she says that community colleges will play a major role in this development. The system not only prepares students who want to transfer to a four-year university, but also those looking for jobs when they complete their community or technical college degrees.

More than half of all freshmen and sophomores in Alabama are enrolled in two-year colleges, and about 15,000 each year transfer to a four-year institution.

“Whether to seek a bachelor’s degree, associate’s degree or a professional certification depends on what a person wants out of life,” Hill says. “There are many high-demand, high-wage jobs that require the kind of technical training that is only available through our two-year colleges.”

Hill’s first goal for the system is to concentrate on and define student success.

“I believe students are successful if they take two or three classes to get a job promotion, complete a short-term certificate, complete an associate’s degree and go to work, or transfer to a four-year college or university,” she says. Other goals include increasing retention, graduation and placement rates and serving more adult education and prison population students. Hill also wants to focus on helping existing business and industry.

Hill’s biggest challenge in meeting these goals is the budget. The system’s student population continues to grow even as the state has cut higher education funding.

The growth “is a nice problem to have, but the applications must still get processed, qualified adjunct faculty must be recruited and hired, and additional classroom space must be found,” Hill says. “However, the faculty and staff at our colleges are hardworking, committed individuals who are willing to go the extra mile to make sure our students and communities are served. Hopefully, when the economy turns, the legislature will recognize our needs and fund us more appropriately.”

—Julie Sartor is an editor for the UGA College of Education.