SCF may expand facilities, add campuses
MANATEE -- Rapid population growth in north Manatee and north Sarasota counties may push the State College of Florida to invest tens of millions of dollars in new computer technology, facilities and possibly new campuses in the next few years.
This scenario is one of several addressed by a new strategic plan published by SCF this week. Looking forward five years, the plan proposes actions for college staff and administration to attract and retain more local students, as well as buy in from area employers.
Employing the theme "Boldly Engaging," the plan was officially rolled out by SCF President Carol Probstfeld. Developed over the past eight months, the plan addresses student retention, workforce development and the changing learning needs of SCF students. The plan covers the 2015-2020 time period.
The four-point plan revolves around expanding college facilities and technology, attracting and retaining more first-year students, having faculty members work with business and community leaders to develop new curriculum, and marketing the college's brand.
Up front, the plan calls for the college to expand its facilities to accommodate student growth. Part and parcel to that, Probstfeld said, will be the creation of an "online campus" that will allow students to more easily sign up for classes at times and locations that fit their lives.
Rapid population growth in Parrish, along the eastern portion of Fruitville Road and in the planned southern expansion of Lakewood Ranch will increase demand for classroom space beyond SCF's campuses in Bradenton, Lakewood Ranch and Venice, she said. And while the school has about 4,600 students taking courses online, Probstfeld said students still overwhelmingly want to learn in physical classrooms and participate in campus life.
Where those future classrooms will be located is yet to be decided.
"They are behind, to some extent in Parrish, North Port and north Sarasota County," Probstfeld said. "Are we renting a storefront or are we talking about a campus?"
Currently, the school's enrollment is just over 10,200, with more than half of those students taking classes at the Bradenton campus.
That enrollment is expected to grow with some extra work on the part of college staff and faculty. Probstfeld said the strategic plan calls for creating a "concierge-style experience" that will help students with tasks such as signing up for classes and job placement. During an initial presentation of the plan's goals to SCF's board of trustees in March, administration estimated that meeting this goal will result in 2 percent annual enrollment growth.
With that growth, SCF is looking to adjust its curriculum to better fit the needs of area employers. While the school already has a number of programs and majors that cater to the local job market, Probstfeld said faculty will be on the leading edge of developing new workforce program offerings for the first time. Some may even work in internships at local companies to get a better sense of the skills employers need from future employees.
College representatives will also meet with community and professional groups to better familiarize their members with the college.
"We're going to go to them," Probstfeld said.
The approach may be a welcome one. Bob Bartz, president of the Manatee Chamber of Commerce, said employers responding to the chamber's recently completed annual survey said their top concern is hiring and retaining a skilled workforce. Those employers need to bring on new employees. During the next five years, some estimate that up to 70 percent of their employees will retire and will need to be replaced by young, qualified workers.
"State College of Florida could play a tremendous role in providing some of that education that people are looking for," Bartz said.
Beyond the realm of employers, SCF will be selling its brand to the Manatee-Sarasota area in a broader marketing campaign. Probstfeld said she wants the college to build its profile as both a learning institution and a community resource. Proposed efforts include promoting faculty members as subject-matter experts in the media and other public venues, recruiting high-quality faculty and promoting its "you can get anywhere from here" slogan as it applies to student achievement.
Work has already begun on some of the sub-goals of the plan. A consultant is currently doing an organizational structure review of the college.
The strategic plan comes to the fore as SCF is set to become the only school in Florida's state college system to end its faculty tenure system. As of next July, new full-time instructors hired at SCF will work on annual contracts. The school's 104 current full-time faculty that already have tenure will retain it, while 24 faculty members on tenure track will still be able to qualify.
Matt M. Johnson, Herald business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7027 or on Twitter@MattAtBradenton.