By Meagan Harkins

The Appalachian hillsides have been home to the coal industry for over 300 years, but coal’s gradual decline has required some innovative thinking in regard to the region’s economic future. Leaders at Sullivan Foundation partner school Alice Lloyd College (ALC), located in Pippa Passes, Ky., believe that teaching students entrepreneurial and technological skills is the key to rural Appalachia’s sustained growth. And the Sullivan Foundation has played a crucial role in that mission through a partnership that dates back 50 years.

Alice Lloyd, who founded ALC in 1923, was passionate about producing servant leaders who could strategically and effectively give back to their communities. “I will never turn away a qualified student who is willing to work and learn because of money,” she often said.

Related: Alice Lloyd College, Berea College recognized as tuition-free work colleges

ALC is a tuition-free “work college,” meaning that all full-time students work at least 10 hours per week to offset their tuition cost. No student pays out of pocket or through loans for their tuition. It’s one of a small number of tuition-free colleges in the United States and has been recognized by U.S. News & World Report, NPR, Yahoo Finance and other top media outlets.

Faculty and staff at ALC focus on giving students the knowledge and skills they need to be prepared for post-graduate life. All students are required to dress in business-professional attire every Tuesday so they can practice presenting themselves as serious, career-minded individuals. That mentality has proven beneficial, as 96 percent of ALC’s alumni find jobs or start attending graduate school within six months after getting their degrees.

Forty percent of ALC graduates go on to earn an additional degree in health sciences. Through the Caney Scholars Program, the college provides financial support for those students seeking advanced degrees, whether through graduate school, medical school, law school or other educational opportunities.

John Mark Driskill also received the Sullivan Award at Alice Lloyd College in 2019.

A Valued Partner
As a tuition-free college, ALC relies mostly on donations and partnerships with foundations. Unfortunately, there aren’t many foundations in eastern Kentucky itself, and few nationwide foundations provide education funding in rural Appalachia. The Sullivan Foundation has worked to fill this void through an intentional focus on education and service in its partnership with ALC.

“The only way we are able to provide a valuable education to so many is because of the generosity of foundations,” said ALC Vice President Dr. Jim Stepp. “The Sullivan Foundation has been a valued partner for a long time.”

This long, productive relationship can be traced back to a letter dated July 13, 1971, written by former Sullivan Foundation President William Bardusch to ALC administrators. Bardusch announced that the foundation had authorized a $5,000 grant to be issued to the college in the fall. ALC has received annual scholarship grants from the Sullivan Foundation since then. The college began presenting the Sullivan Award in 1982. In December 1988, the foundation made an additional grant of $22,000 to establish an endowed scholarship fund in memory of Algernon Sydney Sullivan and Mary Mildred Sullivan at ALC, and the college began offering Sullivan Scholarships to incoming freshmen in 2004. The fund has increased almost seven-fold in value since then, with earnings providing funds for the student scholarships as well as paying for ALC faculty and students to attend the Sullivan Foundation’s Ignite Retreats and other Sullivan events.

“It has been my privilege to be in contact and work with several of the personnel at the Sullivan Foundation over the years, and I appreciate the kindness and support each has given me along the way,” said Pat Fraley, who served as ALC’s director of foundation and corporate giving for 57 years. “Our college is truly grateful for all the foundation has done to make a difference in the lives of our students, and we can never say ‘thank you’ enough.”

Rachel Childers (right) and her family

A Focus on Social Entrepreneurship
ALC introduced a minor in entrepreneurship just one year before the Sullivan Foundation began focusing on social entrepreneurship programming. Stepp said he took that as a sign of validation that ALC was headed in the right direction. “Alice Lloyd was a social entrepreneur, and that is a huge part of our culture,” Stepp said. “Our genesis is social entrepreneurship.”

Rachel Childers, an ALC alumna and 2008 Mary Mildred Sullivan Award recipient, exemplifies the college’s commitment to impact entrepreneurship. As a student, she served as the vice president of the Student Government Association and collaborated on Habitat for Humanity projects. Childers also worked frequently with Operation Christmas Child, a tradition she continues with her daughter today. Professionally, she worked for the Lexington, Ky.-based Hospice of the Bluegrass as provider liaison, educating families and communities about free services available to assist patients’ loved ones.

Today, Childers serves as Director of Appalachian Leadership and professor of entrepreneurship at Alice Lloyd College, focused on promoting job growth and entrepreneurial education amidst the Appalachian region’s economic decline due to the coal industry’s struggles.

“Returning to my hometown and teaching at my alma mater has been a rewarding experience,” Childers said. “As a college student, I looked up to my professors, and I am now honored to call those professors my co-workers and mentors. Whether I am going to the bank or the grocery story, I am always greeted by a friend. I have made it my mission to provide an entrepreneurship education, promote economic growth and mentor students so that the next generations will have the opportunity to live and work in their hometowns as well.”

“We are extremely grateful for the partnership with the Sullivan Foundation over the last 50 years,” Dr. Stepp said. “We feel this support really speaks to the fact that the foundation believes in what we are doing at Alice Lloyd.”

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