Eduardo Padr?n, Floridian of the Year
A relentless advocate for community colleges, the Miami Dade College president gained the ear of President Obama and helped change the way the United States views community colleges.
|"The nexus of education and business is crucial to the nation's competitiveness, and that is a space that Eduardo has really influenced. He has clearly influenced the Obama administration."
— Brian Fitzgerald, executive director, Business-Higher Education Forum, an organization of Fortune 500 CEOs and college and university presidents
Padrón's voice also is resonating in Florida, where business groups including the Chamber of Commerce have urged lawmakers to let community colleges expand their degree programs to meet the evolving needs of the economy. A Florida Council of 100 study lamented that Florida ranked 43rd in the nation in the number of residents with bachelor's degrees.
Frank Nero, president and CEO of the Beacon Council, Miami-Dade's public-private economic-development partnership, says he appreciates that Padrón "has stood up when it's not been easy to stand up on controversial issues." He credits Padrón with forging a strong coalition among Miami-Dade's superintendent of schools and college presidents to press for education funding.
Padrón is not free of controversy. He took advantage of a loophole in a state retirement program that allowed some workers to "double-dip" — to retire and collect retirement benefits while returning to their previous jobs at full salary. Padrón, the St. Petersburg Times reported, collected a $893,286 lump-sum retirement benefit in 2006 and began receiving $14,631 a month in retirement pay. Meanwhile, he returned to the president's job, where his $495,962 salary by itself makes him one of the highest-paid college presidents in the nation. The Times named Padrón the state's leading "double-dipper." A spokesman told the newspaper that the school's board had asked Padrón to return and that the retirement process was legal and acceptable.
Padrón has also been criticized by faculty who charged he was singularly focused on training workers for south Florida's corporations to the detriment of liberal arts education. He responds that both at Miami Dade and nationally, he has pushed liberal education, including ethics and critical-thinking and communications skills, "for every American."
"The world is spinning at such a very fast pace that you need not only technical skills, but general skills in many different areas to adapt to different situations," Padrón says. "Just preparing somebody to install solar panels is not going to be enough because two years from now it will be something else."
Padrón says that even more than faculty, business leaders have expressed strongly how much they need flexible problem-solvers. He insists that Miami Dade College officials call on each new business relocating to the region to ask about their specific needs. Listening to them closely, he says, is the key to lifting Florida's economy.
Brian E. Keeley, president and CEO of Baptist Health South Florida, says the college's customized healthcare degrees "are allowing the healthcare industry, one of the only growth industries, to hire hundreds of people in south Florida.
"Eduardo Padrón has had a profound effect on our local community and now on our economy," Keeley says. "It's probably fair to say he's touched everybody's life in south Florida — certainly more so than any other educator down here."
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