Southern Union State Community College is a two-year college with campuses in Wadley (Randolph County), Opelika (Lee County), and Valley (Chambers County). SUSCC was officially established on August 11, 1994, when the Alabama State Legislature approved the merger between Southern Union State Junior College and Opelika State Technical College. Southern Union offers associate degrees, diplomas, and certificates in a variety of fields.
Southern Union was chartered originally as Bethlehem College on June 2, 1922, by the Southern Christian Convention of Congregational Christian Churches. The town of Wadley was selected as the site for the college because it was located near a large number of the denomination’s churches. John M. Hodge, a local banker, donated 40 acres on which to build the college. The school opened with a single building and 51 students on September 13, 1923. The college remained church affiliated until 1964, operating as Piedmont Junior College (1928-1929), Southern Union College (1930-1933), and the Southern Union College (1933-1964).
On October 1, 1964, the college was deeded to the State of Alabama and became part of a newly created system of two-year colleges under the governance of the Alabama State Board of Education (BoE). Renamed Southern Union State Junior College (SUSJC), the institution was accredited in 1970 by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.
Opelika State Technical College opened on January 10, 1966, as the Opelika State Vocational Technical Institute, having been authorized by the Alabama State Legislature on May 3, 1963; Robert Brown served as its first president, leading the institution until 1992. The Lee County Commission donated 63 acres of land for the site. On August 22, 1973, the Alabama State Board of Education designated it Opelika State Technical College, and the school was accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools in 1971.
On August 12, 1993, the state BoE approved a merger of SUSJC and Opelika Tech to create Southern Union State Community College (SUSCC). The merger of the two schools created a comprehensive community college that offers associate degrees, diplomas, and certificates. The college offers academic programs for transfer to other institutions, technical/vocational programs for specialized career tracks, and nursing and allied health programs for specialized training in health sciences. Today, the college has an enrollment of more than 5,000 students and serves residents of eight counties in east-central Alabama and west-central Georgia. The college has 237 full-time faculty and staff and an annual budget of approximately $37 million.
Johnson, Roy Roy Johnson served as the president of SUSCC until 2002, when he was named Chancellor of the Alabama College System. A former state legislator, Johnson was fired as chancellor in 2006 amid allegations of corruption, some of which stemmed from his tenure at SUSCC. Johnson pled guilty in 2008 to 15 federal charges, including bribery, conspiracy to commit bribery, and money laundering. In November 2010, Johnson was sentenced to six and a half years in federal prison. Southern Union’s next president, Joanne Jordan, served from 2002-2006. She was not untouched by the Johnson scandal, pleading guilty to federal charges of obstruction of justice and ethics violations in 2008. Her successor, Susan Salatto (2006-2007), was fired following complaints of large-scale mismanagement. Amelia Pearson was appointed by former Chancellor Bradley Byrne as interim president in January 2008 and remains in that position.
The Wadley campus, the only one of the three locations to offer on-campus housing, is best known for its programs in the performing arts, including music, dance, and drama. Southern Union is one of only a select few two-year colleges in the state that offers a comprehensive program of study in dance. Alumni of the college’s fine arts department include singer/songwriter Brad Cotter, the 2004 Nashville Star winner; actor and performer Stephen “Twitch” Boss, the season four runner up on the Fox series So You Think You Can Dance; and Jamie Langley, Miss Alabama 2007.
SUSCC fields athletic teams in baseball, softball, cross-country, cheerleading, volleyball, and men’s and women’s basketball, all located on the Wadley campus. Southern Union’s Sports Arena, with a seating capacity of approximately 2,000, opened in 1998 and functions as an assembly center and sports complex. The building is home to the school’s basketball and volleyball teams and accommodates special events such as graduations, concerts, and community events. A new state-of-the art baseball stadium opened on the Wadley campus in February 2010. Southern Union’s nickname is the Bison and the school colors are blue and gold.
In addition to academic courses, the Opelika Campus is home to the college’s technical and health science divisions. Programs of study in the technical division include automotive collision repair, automotive mechanics, machine shop technology, industrial electricity/electronics, manufacturing technology, heating and air conditioning, welding, cosmetology, and engineering graphics and design.
The Higginbotham Academic Center’s Health Sciences building offers a fully functional simulated health care facility in which students of nursing, radiography, surgical technology, and emergency medical services gain experience in a team setting.
The Valley Campus offers academic courses for transfer and several health science and technical fields. The newly constructed Technology Center is scheduled to open on that campus in the fall of 2010.
Students at Southern Union can choose from a variety of activities, clubs, and academic honoraries in which to participate. Students can serve on the staff of The Southerner, the college’s student newspaper, and can participate in the Student Government Association, the Southern Union Ambassador program, Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society, Phi Beta Lamba, Association of Radiologic Students, College Bowl, Global Environmental Organization of Students, Baptist Campus Ministries, and a variety of intramural sports.