The Future of Higher Education
Meeting Demands: Local institutions plan to offer more degree programs to fill workforce needs.
The universities and colleges of Southwest Florida will have a greater international focus, offer more degree programs and expand their online offerings over the next decade as they catch up to nationwide trends in higher education.
At Florida Gulf Coast University (FGCU), administrators will push for state funding to build a new combined academic health and recreation center; more laboratories and classrooms for science, technology and math programs; and more residential units as on-campus enrollment grows.
Between 2002 and 2012, enrollment in higher education nationally increased by 24 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Higher Education. FGCU President Wilson Bradshaw (pictured left) predicts the pace at FGCU to continue roughly at the same steady clip of 2-3 percent per year.
At Florida SouthWestern State College (FSW), legislative priorities will focus on refurbishing aging infrastructure while growing the number of degree programs in line with its mission to meet the state’s workforce needs, while also maintaining the spirit of higher education: shaping a well-rounded citizenry.
“Jobs, jobs, jobs. That is critically important,” says Florida SouthWestern President Jeff Allbritten (pictured right). “But I hope there’s more to it than that. We need to graduate people who are flexible, analytical.”
To him, part of that means giving faculty and undergraduate students the opportunity to explore research interests, including through outside grants.
FSW, which has four campuses throughout the region, wants to add a business technology degree and a two-year degree in aviation airframe and power plant mechanics, at the Punta Gorda location. They’re planning to partner with Western Michigan University, leasing it space there, to deliver a baccalaureate program in the same field.
Allbritten has sent recruiters to the Midwest and Northeast in the winter (bearing palm-tree photographs), and the number of out-of-state students grew by 20 percent after that campaign. He has created a Center for International Studies, which would allow foreign students to earn Florida SouthWestern degrees at their home university and encourage more study-abroad opportunities.
Neither school has plans in the foreseeable future to build out its footprint in Southwest Florida. Other institutions, such as Hodges, Keiser and Ave Maria universities, already fill in many of the physical and programmatic spaces. FGCU still has a bit less than a third of its main campus available for new construction.
“We believe we’ll see an increase in the number of courses that we offer online,” Bradshaw says. “That’s simply going to happen” as a function of the demand.