Opinion Columns & Blogs

College Consortium offers sounding board for emerging programs

State College of Florida Manatee-Sarasota campus
State College of Florida Manatee-Sarasota campus ttompkins@bradenton.com

The hallmark of higher education is its ability to respond to and meet local needs. In Manatee and Sarasota counties, we have not just one institution, but a consortium of colleges designed to meet local higher education needs from employment-ready short-term certificates to graduate degrees. With almost 200 degrees and certificates, the members of the consortium — New College, Ringling College of Art and Design, State College of Florida Manatee-Sarasota, University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee, FSU/The Ringling and Eckerd College – provide a depth and breadth of opportunities for our local students.

SCF recently expanded the number of certificate opportunities for students who are either ready to enter the workforce quickly or earn an Associate of Science degree with multiple professional certifications. These seven new certificate programs range from nine to 24 credit hours and include Advanced Lean Manufacturing, Automation, Criminal Justice Technology, Homeland Security, Network Infrastructure, Biotechnology, and Green Belt Six Sigma. Students earning these industry-recognized certificates are workforce ready. We focus on working with employers to create the programs that lead to jobs for our graduates.

This is just one example of an impressive combined opportunity across our college consortium. Our members include a comprehensive regional university, a state college with extensive workforce certificates and degrees, Florida’s honors college, a preeminent art and design college, an innovative liberal arts college and a world-class museum with unique graduate programs. Four institutions are public and two are private. Together, we cover a broad higher education spectrum. With unique programs, we complement each other without competition. Collectively, we have 18,000 students, 522 faculty, 192 degrees and certificates and more than 2,000 full-time employees.

As we develop our group synergy, we are improving our ability to identify the ways we can collectively address emerging opportunities in our community and leverage our strengths collaboratively.

Our top goal is to promote our region as a higher education destination. Collectively, we are an asset for our region to attract and retain talent. Employers are increasingly concerned about available workforce as our unemployment rate dips below 4 percent. Nearly 4,000 students graduate annually from Manatee and Sarasota high schools. We want these graduates to strongly consider staying here. We also want to attract talent from outside the region with internships and community experiences that entice them to start their professional careers in our region.

Collaboration among our 522 full-time faculty offers incredible opportunities. For example, we have 86 STEM faculty – think about the possibilities for state-of-the-art programming with this talent. Dynamic connections can also help recruit and retain faculty. Fostering cross-campus projects can benefit the region and make us more competitive for grant funding.

We are all working to improve internship opportunities for our students and career placements of our graduates. All of our colleges have or are in the process of changing career services models and increasing investments. Collectively we are leveraging our resources. This includes planning effective student-employer events, as well as developing a talent connector tool funded by the Knight Foundation Fund at the Manatee Community Foundation. We are consulting our partners to develop programming and opportunities, including the Gulf Coast CEO Forum, the Bradenton Area Economic Development Corp., the Sarasota County EDC, area Chambers of Commerce and other interested partners.

Our consortium of colleges is responsive to the education and employment needs of our region. We offer an impressive range of programs that meet the short- and long-term needs of our students, and a vast capability that can be leveraged by our local business and industry partners.

The consortium offers our employers and community a collective sounding board — and we are listening.

Dr. Carol Probstfeld, President, State College of Florida Manatee-Sarasota