January 22, 2020

Up Front - Publisher's Column

Higher Ed: Hat's off to Florida's colleges and universities

Andrew P. Corty | 5/29/2018

Higher education is big business in Florida, and many schools throughout the state are climbing in national rankings. U.S. News & World Report compiles the most-followed list. No matter your opinion, the lists are influential with faculty, alumni and prospective students.

While the top 20 universities in the U.S. are all private, the University of Florida has cracked the top 50 (No. 42) and is the 9th-ranked public institution in the nation. Others placing high include private University of Miami (No. 46) and Florida State University (No. 81) .

I’ll admit to having a soft spot for FSU since our son attends graduate school there. But I’ve had good experiences at all of Florida’s universities, so perhaps I’m just a fan of Florida higher education in general. Rest assured, though, that in this annual special edition of higher ed we don’t play favorites. There’s an article about Sandy Shugart, president of Valencia College in Orlando. We note that he’s a renaissance man, but more importantly, we highlight the improvements he has made at Valencia. Under his leadership, the college has won the prestigious Aspen Prize. Shugart himself has won the McGraw Prize for innovation in education and has been named one of the 10 most innovative college and university presidents in the country. Perhaps most significant for students, Shugart worked with UCF President John Hitt to create DirectConnect, which guarantees admission to UCF to any student who earns a degree from Valencia.

Valencia is but one example of the greatness in Florida’s college system. State colleges are open to everyone with a high school diploma, prepare many for immediate jobs and open the educational doors for non-traditional students who might be a bit older or have complicated lives with children and work.

At UCF, Hitt is stepping down after 26 years. In his place comes Dale Whittaker, who moved four years ago from Purdue to take the provost slot as Hitt’s top deputy. You’ll read about both his short-term and long-term goals. You won’t be surprised to learn that reaching pre-eminence is at the top of his list. The University of Florida and Florida State are already pre-eminent universities. My hometown school, the University of South Florida, will likely earn the designation this year. Along with preeminence comes increased funding, among other things.

Speaking of funding, we have an article on university foundations, which raise much-needed private money for these great schools. Lawmakers don’t seem to understand that these foundations are sales and marketing arms, just like Visit Florida and Enterprise Florida. They are never going to bat 100%. A Major League Baseball player who goes one for three (.333) is considered a superstar — and that’s success just 33% of the time. It’s the contacts and outreach that bring the donations . . . over time. You build friends before you bring in funds. Everyone in business understands this. While I agree that we need to spend state dollars carefully, I have great confidence that all these organizations do just that.

Also, be sure to read our article on small-college football, which sheds light on what these programs mean financially. Here’s a hint: It’s not about ticket sales.

Finally, take a look at our TopRank lists of Florida’s schools — the dozen public universities, 28 state colleges, the independent not-for-profit institutions and the top 20 for-profit colleges. For the state colleges, we are listing the enrollment of full-time students, not everyone who they could count as taking a course.

— Andy Corty, Publisher


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