LEGAZPI CITY -- Graduating three-term Albay Gov. Joey Salceda considers his pioneering free tertiary education program which has now benefited 88,444 scholars as his biggest and most significant legacy to his province.
Many of these scholars have already graduated and are now either thriving entrepreneurs or gainfully employed locally and abroad.
Designated as the Albay Higher Education Contribution Scheme (AHECS), the program is a novel study-now-pay-later scholarship program started in 2007, initially aimed to produce a college graduate for every Albayano family. On account of its overwhelming success, Salceda said its goal was recently raised to at least one college and one technical-vocational graduate per family. The program is his brainchild and forms part of his governance package for the past nine years.
Salceda completes his three terms as governor this June and will takeover as Representative of Albay’s Capital (second Congressional) District which gave him a 92-percent vote mandate in the May 9 elections. He said AHECS will continue to leave its mark on every Albayano family who benefited from it and who will forever reap the fruits of its successes.
Having successfully tested the program in Albay, Salceda plans to make AHECS a model for a legislated National Higher Education Contribution System for Private Tertiary and Free Public College which he said he will push in Congress. AHECS takes the biggest chunk of the provincial budget. It was funded by a P700 million secured loan from Land Bank in 2010, and is hailed as among Albay’s more effective development strategies. It was patterned after the Australian scholarship program that beats the US educational system.
AHECS had an initial enrolment of 34,000 Albayano students in 2007, which grew to 77,172 in 2012 and then to 88,444 in 2015. Its beneficiaries are given a “free hand to choose their fields of study, minus the usual financial woes that hamstrung parents and students who desire to pursue college education,” he said, adding that most of his programs are predicated on the philosophy and value of “constant kindness, categorical imperative of fairness and equality, and the capacity to dream and be creative, while not forgetting humility.”
Albay goes on record as the country’s first and only province to have institutionalized its education program. The program is administered by its Provincial Education Department, created by an Albay Provincial Board ordinance and duly approved by the Civil Service Commission, the Department of Education and the Department of Budget and Management.
AHECS has partnered with some 53 colleges and universities across Albay. At the Mariners’ Polytechnic Institute, the most popular school for seafarers in Southern Luzon, its beneficiary graduates from 2009 to 2015 have reached 3,247. The total scholarship investments for them stand at P16,235,000. Many local government units in the country have visited Albay to study and replicate the AHECS model.
In many Albay schools’ graduation ceremonies where Salceda guested, parents and students would stand up, applaud, thank and honor him. In several instances, he expressed surprise when he found out that more than 50 percent of the graduating class were AHECS benificiaries. He has thanked students, parents and the schools across the province for supporting the program, and due to its overwhelming good results, he decided to “raise the target to one technical-vocational and one entrepreneur graduate in every family”.
“Albay aims to produce a corps of technically trained and employable manpower out of its trainable human resources through AHECS, through partnerships with local colleges and universities, led by the Bicol University, which are catalyst institutions that inculcate knowledge and develop skills and attitudes needed by the workplace, and serve as repository of intellectual resources, including technical and cultural heritage,” he explained.
With AHECS and Salceda’s previous scholarship program when he was Albay 3rd District congressman, before he became governor, his scholarship scheme’s benediciary list has now reached a total of 104,035, many of whom are now thriving entrepreneurs and gainfully employed and raising their families. (PNA)