Project 208 relies on political support

Project 208 relies on political support

President Kenneth Kitts states one reason the University of North Alabama does not receive enough funding is because there is a lack of representation of the Shoals on necessary committees in the Alabama House of Representatives and Senate.

Kitts created Project 208 to increase funding for UNA and bring awareness to the funding issues at UNA.

One issue Kitts believes hinders UNA’s funding is a lack of alumni representation in the state legislature.

“There are no Alabama Senate or House districts to the north or west of Lauderdale County, so the size of UNA’s legislative delegation is small and has reduced UNA’s influence in Montgomery,” Kitts said.

Kitts added some large universities have over 30 alumni serving in the House or Senate with regional schools having proportionately fewer representatives.

The 2019 Alabama Legislative session begins March 5 and UNA will have alumni representation on the State Government Committee, Insurance Committee and the House Ways and Means Education Committee.

According to, Jamie Kiel (R-Russellville) is a UNA alumni and congressional representative for District 18 in Alabama. Committee assignments are made by Alabama Speaker of the House Mac McCutcheon (R-Monrovia).

“I’ve found out I’ll be the first University of North Alabama graduate on the committee and the only member from Northwest Alabama,” Kiel said. “It’s one of the most prestigious committees in the House and very powerful as our responsibility includes making sure the education budget is properly seen to.”

The House Ways and Means Education Committee is responsible for Alabama’s education budget. Kiel said this committee is considered one of the most influential committees in the legislature because it is responsible for researching and developing the annual multi-billion-dollar education budget, which funds public kindergarten through 12th-grade schools, community colleges and universities. In addition to the budget, the committee also handles education-related appropriation bills.

“As a freshman House member, I’m extremely honored Speaker McCutcheon has placed this level of trust and responsibility on me,” Kiel said. “I have a strong commitment to education and look forward to working with the other 14 members of the committee to improve education opportunities in this state.”

UNA is currently $25 million underfunded each year and ranks number 14 out of 14 in the least funded four year public universities per full-time student equivalent in Alabama.

“Jamie is an alumnus of UNA, and we know he will be a voice of fairness and reason as decisions are made on higher education funding,” Kitts said. “We look forward to working with him as a newly-elected member of the Alabama House of Representatives.”

As a member of the House Insurance Committee, Kiel will be part of the group that handles all legislation relating to the state’s insurance industry and the millions of Alabama residents who rely on it.

“There are some unique challenges there statewide,” Kiel said. “We have issues on the Gulf Coast with hurricane problems and insurance is important in Northwest Alabama because of the tornado issues we deal with each year. So we are all affected by insurance and the decision we make.”

Kitts said one of his roles as president of UNA is meeting with representatives and senators about Project 208 and making them aware of UNA’s funding issue.

“Our local representatives and senators have been great to help UNA,” Kitts said. “They are dialed into Project 208 and doing everything in their power to help us.”

Tim Melson, senator for Congressional District 1, is a UNA alumni serving in Alabama’s Senate.

“A strong education system is vital to the future of our communities,” Melson said.

As senator, Melson has supported increased funding for more career tech and dual enrollment opportunities for students. According to, Melson worked to bring a new workforce development center to District 1. The upcoming development center will partner with local high schools and community colleges to help prepare students with the education and training they need to be successful.”

Students have the opportunity to advocate for more university funding through Higher Education Day April 4 in Montgomery, Alabama.

Higher Education Day is an annual advocacy event for students and university representatives to advocate publicly for Alabama’s decision makers and legislators to support public policy that elevates university impact and funding. The event engages media and provides statewide exposure to universities.

“Higher ed day is crucial,” said Junior Jessie Harbuck. “We are the lowest funded school in the state and we need to go advocate for more funding. I want students to get more involved and aware of this funding. We don’t deserve anything less than other schools.”

The goal of Higher Education Day is to host an event that reminds people of the importance of the universities and to connect the students of the university community to the decision makers, according to

UNA paid an Alabama lobbyist $64,230.53 in 2018 to advocate for UNA. A lobbyist is a person who takes part in an organized attempt to influence legislators.

According to, Steve Windom started Steve Windom, LLC, which combines lobbying, governmental affairs and an active law practice, in January 2003.

Steve Windom , LLC provides the access, advocacy and advice to help organizations and businesses achieve political objectives.

Windom is a former Alabama Lt. Governor and State Senator.

“Politics has its own rhythms and sets of rules and we have made an effort to build these relationships,” Kitts said. “We try to bring senators and representatives here to UNA and get to know them on a first name basis.”

McCutcheon will be the featured speaker at UNA’s College of Arts and Sciences spring commencement ceremony.

Kitts said sharing infographics and research on UNA’s inequality is important, and he has been meeting with lawmakers, alumni and working with government relations firms in Montgomery that provide advice during the legislative process.

“In the long run, equality in state funding would allow UNA to offer more competitive scholarships, update facilities and support faculty and staff with the resources they need to serve students,” Kitts said.