FloridaTrend.com, the Website for Florida Business

Trendsetters - May 2007

Arthur Keiser
Keiser University
Fort Lauderdale

Interests: Skiing, golfing.

Sports fan: The family has been a Miami Dolphins season-ticket holder since the inaugural year.

Degrees: Doctorate, 1998, higher education administration, Union Institute and University Graduate School, Cincinnati; bachelor's, 1975, history, cum laude, Tulane.

Quote: "Our students are grown up. They know what they want to be. They come in and enroll for it."

Appointment: By U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings to the National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity.

Biotech: Keiser recently approved a bachelor's in biotechnology for his campus in Port St. Lucie -- home of the relocating Torrey Pines Institute for Molecular Studies -- though he hopes "we're not too early."

In 1977, Arthur Keiser was in Gainesville studying for a doctorate in history, envisioning himself a professor with elbow patches on a tweed coat, a pipe and lots of coeds around.

But job prospects weren't bright, and so he threw in
with his mother, Evelyn Keiser, to found a for-profit career college in Fort Lauderdale. Today, Keiser University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, awards bachelor's degrees in eight fields, associate's degrees in 30 and an MBA. It boasts 14 campuses from Tallahassee to Miami, 10,000 students, 1,700 employees -- none with tenure -- and $200 million in revenue.

Keiser got there by focusing on his customer: Career-driven, working adults looking to move out of a dead end -- no 18-year-old freshmen searching for a keg party and the meaning of life. In 1998, as many as 65% of Keiser students were in computer science. Today, just 12% are. Florida needs teachers? In September, 24 students joined Keiser's first four-year education degree program in Sarasota.

As a for-profit, he gets little respect from his non-profit competition. The recent
Pappas report, a study for the Florida Board of Governors on meeting Florida's education needs, argued that the state needed more institutions focused on offering just bachelor's rather than on graduate schools and research ambitions. It ignored the for-profit sector, he notes.

Keiser, 53, recently put a toe in out-of-state waters, acquiring small South Carolina schools. Within Florida, he expects in five years to have 15,000 to 17,000 students, $300 million in revenue, a larger graduate school, a professional school and to become a predominantly four-year degree institution while offering doctorates, so that Keiser can grow its own faculty. Says Keiser, "I still love what I do."

Seeking Exposure

"The week in January was incredibly successful," says University of Miami provost Thomas LeBlanc. He came from the University of Rochester in 2005 with a goal of increasing international exposure for students. Engineering majors, because of their regimented curriculum, get less chance to study abroad than most. So LeBlanc, 51, with a Rochester colleague, UM's engineering dean Kevin Parker and others, created "Engineering for the Americas" in which 40 students from UM, Rochester, Canada and Latin America spent a week together learning about technology, leadership, entrepreneurship and innovation. Next month, they meet in Rochester, N.Y. Future classes will meet in Miami and abroad. "It's all about creating an international experience for our students."

The Emmons sisters: (from left) Mary, Virginia, Melanie. Photo: Daniel Portnoy

Sister Solution

A West African village suffers from low literacy and poor healthcare. Foster care youth in Miami turn 18 and leave the system, unaware they qualify for free college or trade school tuition and $892 in monthly support while studying.

What the two problems have in common is the five Emmons sisters providing solutions: Virginia Emmons, a former Peace Corps volunteer; two other sisters in Miami, University of Miami law grad and pro bono award winner Melanie Emmons Damian, and caterer and event planner Mary Emmons Dhanji; and two sisters outside Florida, U.S. Military Academy graduate Melissa Emmons McCarthy, who works for a Washington defense contractor, and Wisconsin educator Lucy Emmons Spoerk.

A Milwaukee native and the youngest of eight, Virginia became convinced education was the answer to the troubles in the Niger village to which the Peace Corps assigned her. So sister Lucy in Wisconsin raised the money to open a school in 2000. Today, $30,000 raised annually operates a 70-student elementary school, a health clinic that treats 2,000 people and a boardinghouse in a larger community so the village's children can attend middle school.

Meanwhile in Miami, Melanie, through her pro bono work, grew concerned about foster kids aging out of the system without the skills to succeed. After Virginia arrived in 2004, they founded Educate Tomorrow with their sisters. "It's a very dynamic family," Virginia, 31, says.

Their organization has placed mentors with 200 teens who learn to open a bank account, shop for dorm supplies and, most importantly, find a trade school or college opportunity and tap the free tuition and living stipend. The organization is looking to expand in other Florida counties. "We're not done yet," Virginia says.

Roger Casey
Rollins College
Vice president, provost
Winter Park

Degrees: Doctorate, English, Florida State University, 1991; master's, English, FSU, 1988; bachelor's, English, Furman University, 1983.

Favorite Shakespeare: "Hamlet."

A favorite non-Shakespeare play:
"How I Learned to Drive."

Recent acting gig: With his wife, Robyn, in "Devotedly, With Dearest Love: The Letters of Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald."

Driving Change

Roger Casey's father was a mechanic in South Carolina. "My earliest memories are of crawling under a car with him," he says.

That may explain why as a student of literature he dwelled on the car. His writings include "The Driving Machine: Automobility and American Literature."

These days, though, Casey, 46, steers Rollins College, the Winter Park liberal arts college with 1,750 traditional undergraduates where Casey is provost, or chief academic officer. The word "provost," he jokes, "sounds like one of those drugs they give you for a disease you didn't know you had."

His prescription for Rollins has included pushing student community service, locally and internationally in places such as the Dominican Republic; overseeing the addition of 70 faculty and a lowering of faculty-student ratios to 1:10; and increasing opportunities for faculty to broaden themselves internationally by learning Spanish or visiting the Galapagos, China or elsewhere.

Change in a tenure-secure environment is notoriously difficult to pull off. Casey says the key is to plant seeds at the lowest level and be grateful for getting some of what you want, not all. He likens it to his experiences directing theater. He studied acting and directing at the Royal Shakespeare Company in England. In speeches, he's been known to rap. Casey's own driving machine is a Miata, though he owns a 1970s vintage F100 pickup and a Thunderbird.