- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 27, 2015

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) - Gov. Robert Bentley on Wednesday swore in members of Alabama’s newly created two-year college system board that will govern the state’s 25 community colleges and technical schools.

After the first meeting, Bentley said the board will improve the system by bringing regional representation to the schools. Members were appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Alabama Senate.

“This may go down in history as one of the greatest things we’ve done for this state in a long time, so what we’ve done today is important,” Bentley said.

Alabama’s community colleges and technical schools were previously under the oversight of the Alabama State Board of Education.

State school board members opposing the board called it a legislative power grab for state and federal dollars, and in March unanimously approved a resolution against the legislation.

Bentley and Republican lawmakers who backed the law said a separate board for two-year schools will improve workforce training.

The governor said appointees were selected based on their interest in the system and their understanding of the academics of community colleges.

“One of the most important things that this system does is help us train workers for the state of Alabama,” Bentley said. “So skilled workforce training is so important. … Industries that are coming into Alabama want a skilled workforce, not only on the academic side but also on the workforce side.”

Mark Heinrich, chancellor of the Alabama Community College System, said the board will allow the state to meet the academic needs of students and workforce needs of businesses.

“Ninety-four percent of our students are Alabama citizens, and we need to be preparing them for a living wage job and the community college system I think is best equipped to do that,” Heinrich said.

The board voted Al Thompson as vice president and Milton Davis as president pro tem. When present, Bentley serves as presiding officer.

Thompson said the board will focus first on identifying ways to make the system more efficient by “eliminating redundancies.”

“And at the same time hopefully raise the academic standards, increase what we’re doing with skilled workforce development, and just start clicking on all cylinders so we can really do even more than we’re doing now to impact the state for economic development,” he said.

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