Well, it’s that time of the year again! At this time of year, the community needs to prepare for a doubling or tripling in size over the next few months as students and part-time residents (snowbirds) return to the Creative Coast. We are accustomed to this migration.
But this year is a little different. In addition to our seasonal snowbirds, we are welcoming a record number of college students to Sarasota and Manatee counties — over 13,000 collectively among four higher education institutions: New College of Florida, Ringling College of Art and Design, State College of Florida, and the University of South Florida Sarasota Manatee.
These four institutions, along with The Ringling/FSU and Eckerd College just across the Skyway Bridge, comprise a collective of six colleges, universities and institutions known as the Consortium of Colleges on the Creative Coast (C4). We are collaborating with each other, and with local and regional businesses, to go beyond preparing our area’s infrastructure for the population boom. We are working together to change the way we ready our students for success and grow as a community with this influx of fresh perspectives and creative energy.
At Ringling College, we are proud to introduce the largest incoming class in the 85-year history of the institution. These young people are coming to Sarasota from all over the country and the world. Domestically, while a third of our student body comes from the state of Florida, we have students representing 46 states, two military bases, and the District of Columbia. In addition, 16 percent of our students are international — coming to Ringling College from 58 countries and one autonomous region.
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We are so excited to welcome them to the campus and the community because that is what we are all about. As an art and design college, we strive to build and foster a culture of diverse thought and perspective. Our students, whether they travel from Alabama or Argentina, bring with them a range of ideas and ideologies that spark conversation, creative thought, innovation and, ultimately, change.
It is important to note that this perspective is shared among all of the colleges and universities in the region. In fact, this year USFSM also celebrated the largest enrollment in the history of their campus. As new students pour into the region, the consortium is working together to build programs and implement services that support and enhance their educational experiences in the region.
When the six members of C4 are put together, we are, indeed, a college town. As such, this community must think of itself differently as we meet the needs and challenges for these young people now part of the region. We must create solutions to keep them engaged and connected — to each other and to our local businesses and initiatives.
The collaborative programs and services of the C4 have thus far been primarily behind the scenes, streamlining our methods of communication to better protect our student body, faculty and staff in the event of campus emergencies and piloting new cross-registration opportunities for students who want to expand their curriculum beyond that of their home institution.
But as we develop the consortium, we are coming up with ever more exciting ways to collaborate. In fact, The Ringling is opening this year’s season of Ringling Underground with a special welcome to students of the consortium, offering immersive educational experiences out of their classrooms.
Opportunities like these change the game for our students. They provide platforms to start conversations with students at neighboring institutions and get involved with the community. They build cohesion and cooperation among students — as well as faculty, staff and supporters. Together, we are stronger. Together we can achieve more, for our region and for our students. And I look forward to our future collaborations and how they mold and develop our great region.
Dr. Larry R. Thompson is President of Ringling College of Art and Design.