Here’s a thought: Bradenton is a college town.
While the term may conjure images of packed football stadiums, parents hauling mini-fridges on move-in day and cheap beer by the pitcher, higher-education leaders in Manatee and Sarasota counties say the region being seen as a college town is vital to attracting prospective students.
That is why the State College of Florida, the University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee, New College of Florida, Ringling College of Art and Design and the Ringling Museum of Art, as well as Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, committed to work together to attract students to the region by forming the Consortium of Colleges on the Creative Coast, also known as “C4.”
On Wednesday, leaders from the schools recommitted their vow to work together, and they got rid of the mouthful-of-a name, which had been misleadingly shortened to “C4.” Along with a memorandum of agreement reaffirming the goal of working together, the consortium rolled out a new name. C4 is out. The “Cross College Alliance” is the new brand.
“By collectively branding our partnership, we are able to develop a reputation for this community as a destination for higher education,” USFSM regional chancellor Terry Osborn said.
Alliance facilitator Lori Stryker said the college presidents identified three goals for the alliance: Turn the Manatee-Sarasota area into a destination for higher education, facilitate collaboration among the roughly 520 full-time faculty working here and connect students to more employers.
Professors from the schools work together on research projects, employers can post jobs on a common job portal and students can participate in activities at the other campuses.
“Essentially what we are trying to do is brand this part of Florida as a major higher education community. In this area within literally two miles you have five different colleges, and including Eckerd College up in St. Pete within this corridor, you have six,” said Steven High, executive director of the Ringling Museum of Art. “That really creates a multi-versity environment with over 18,000 students.”
The alliance works partially because each school has its own niche, and the schools do not typically compete for the same types of students.
A handful of students from SCF, USFSM and Ringling gathered in the visitors center at the Ringling Museum of Art on Wednesday for the announcement. Their career aspirations and educational path reflected the strengths of each school.
Megan Ruiz, 20, came to Ringling from Colorado to study illustrating. She hopes to join the ranks of Ringling alumni working in production studios. While Ruiz traveled thousands of miles for her fine arts degree, Gustavo Delgado, 21, chose to study accounting at USFSM so he could stay close to home.
“I really love my parents and I’m really close to them,” Delgado said. “I actually simply wasn’t ready to leave the nest yet.”
Andie Chupp, 26, is finishing her associate degree at the State College of Florida. She originally enrolled in the nursing school but soon realized she hates blood, so she took business classes while also working part time at the school. She will be graduating with her associate in business and is deciding between USF’s main campus in Tampa and USFSM to earn her bachelors.
To learn more about the Cross College Alliance, visit crosscollegealliance.org.