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A Great Partnership: Higher Ed and the Community

Synergy. You can see it, you can feel it: the connection between students with their backpacks, and business leaders with their visions for the future. Throughout Volusia County, higher education is at the forefront of growth, providing the home-grown talent, innovation and drive that progressive businesses demand.

Case in Point: Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University

ERAU, the self-referenced “Harvard of the South,” is in the midst of one of the most significant transformations in the school’s 90-year history, says P. Barry Butler, president. “We are fast becoming an important national presence, not just in aviation and aerospace, but in the sphere of applied research and innovation.” In the past five years, ERAU has invested more than $315 million in building infrastructure in Daytona Beach, at the school’s flagship campus.

“We are generating trailblazing research in aviation and aerospace engineering, from the design and development of a smart, personal flying vehicle to pushing the limits of unmanned aircraft systems and robotics,” Butler says. Expanding research encompasses efforts in the fields of medical human factors, astronomy and space physics, autonomous vehicles, spaceflight operations and cybersecurity.

Rodney Cruise, ERAU’s senior vice president for administration, amplified those thoughts. “Businesses are coming to Daytona Beach because of the unique skills at Embry-Riddle, which help their businesses grow in helpful, thoughtful ways.”

The Daytona Beach area is its own recruiter, Cruise says. “Students and businesses alike are attracted by the area, the lifestyle, the community.” Interesting, well-paying jobs complete the picture.

Largest Area Colleges and Universities... and Enrollment

Daytona State College: 13,970*
Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University: 12,811**
Stetson University: 4,270
Bethune-Cookman University: 3,755
University of Central Florida — Consortium Institution Daytona
State College
: 896
Palmer College of Chiropractic — Florida Campus: 780
Keiser University — Daytona Beach: 458
Florida State University College of Medicine — Daytona Beach: 40
* FTE
** U.S. total enrollment

Small Town, Big Presence: Stetson University

It’s mostly traditional brick outside, with mullioned windows and stately columns, but behind those walls, Stetson University, founded in 1883, is anything but old-school.

Wendy Libby, president, describes a strategic plan that generates leadership in thought, economic prosperity and talent. At the same time, the school’s vision supports programs that meet both student and employer demand. The curriculum is always on the cutting edge, she says, and enrollment last fall was up 50% since 2009.

A private university located in DeLand, just west of Daytona Beach, Stetson consistently ranks high in U.S. News & World Report’slist of Best Regional Universities, recently moving up to tie for the fifth spot. The university also ranks high with residents, who value the liveliness and intellectual excitement that Stetson brings through its classes, lectures, music, art and theater programs. A city official credits a recent population spurt of 1,000 largely to Stetson. Alumni love Stetson, too, adding to an endowment that has reached more than $208 million and sparked a recent gift of $18 million from a single donor.

Enrollment is up, and so is the budget. For the 2018-2019 fiscal year, the school’s budget includes more than $11.7 million in capital improvements and expenditures for the university’s campuses in DeLand and at its College of Law in Gulfport. “We are completing work this year on the multimillion dollar Sandra Stetson Aquatic Center, home to the Institute for Water and Environmental Resilience, and an outstanding facility for rowing and visiting teams,” Libby says.

“Most importantly, we are planning toward impactful utilization of the $18-million gift Hyatt and Cici Brown made toward expanding our science and health programs and facilities,” Libby says. “Hyatt Brown has rightly called this an investment in West Volusia and our academic leadership.”

At the Heart of Daytona Beach: Daytona State College

No smokestacks here, no blast furnaces either, but tucked away along the rivers and among the longleaf pines, Volusia County is home to more than 450 manufacturing companies, some of them leaders internationally. Helping to supply these companies with well-trained, reliable workers and recent graduates with rewarding jobs is one of the missions of Daytona State College.

Last year, DSC served a total of 26,000 students, says Tom LoBasso, president. Through its Advanced Technology College, qualified junior and senior high school students are offered free dual-enrollment at DSC, learning specific trades that are key contributors to the workforce. Dual-enrollment is also offered in other areas. “This year, 108 students got an AA degree before they graduated from high school,” says LoBasso. “Talk about a benefit to families ­­— the savings they have experienced.”

Among others, DSC offers bachelor’s programs in education and nursing, both of which have a direct impact on the community, with graduates of the School of Nursing filling positions at area medical facilities and as teachers at local schools. For the past two years, the Volusia County Teacher of the Year was a DSC graduate.

“The college has been instrumental in several businesses relocating here,” LoBasso adds.

DSC was involved in recruiting Techfit, a Colombian company that searched the U.S. before choosing Daytona Beach and becoming part of the research park at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. “We talked to them, gave them a tour. We have machining and brand new 3D printers, and that really impressed them. We had a positive impact on their decision-making. They are going to connect with our program.”

The college boasts several other unique programs and facilities: database technology for billing and coding and the Southeast Museum of Photography, which attracts students from across the country.

“And we would put our culinary arts program up against anyone in the country. We are the only one in the region with a micro-brewing lab,” LoBasso says. Add to that the News-Journal Center, a performing arts complex on the Halifax River, “and a music production technology program with state of the art studios that mirror what you would find in Nashville,” says LoBasso. Want to learn how to make eyeglasses? Okay, there’s that, too. Or, how about an AS degree in TV production? Students get hands-on experience at WDSC-TV, an independent broadcasting station, located on campus. “Their resumes are off the chart when they graduate,” LoBasso says.

The University of Central Florida also has a presence on the Daytona Beach campus, where students can participate in the “Direct Connect” program. Study for two years at DSC, with joint advisers from UCF, and enter UCF with full junior status.

Bethune-Cookman University and Other Important Players

Since 1943, Bethune-Cookman University, a historically black private university, has graduated more than 13,200 students. Traditionally, the university has maintained intercollegiate athletic programs and instrumental and choral groups that have achieved national recognition.

National Statuary Hall in Washington, D.C. will soon include a statue of the university’s founder, civil rights leader and educator Mary McLeod Bethune. The university’s board of trustees has launched a nationwide campaign to raise funds for the statue. It will be one of only two statue positions granted to Florida.

Keiser University and Palmer College of Chiropractic give area students still more choices in the higher education options available locally.

K-12 Makes the Grade

Volusia County’s public school system is the state’s 13th largest school district (63,000-plus students) and one of the largest employers in the county with approximately 7,300 employees. More than half of the district’s employees are skilled teachers, all of whom are state-certified. Approximately 42% of instructional staff hold master’s, educational specialist or doctoral degrees.