Sarasota has strived to be a college town, but with students sticking to their own campuses, the presence of major academic institutions can get forgotten once you wonder off grounds. A newly formed consortium of schools could change the profile of higher education both locally and in terms of national and international prestige. Leadership for major schools in the region—Ringling College of Art and Design, University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee, New College of Florida and State College of Florida Manatee-Sarasota—met informally over the past two years and launched trial efforts at endeavors like cross-registration. In December, three major foundations announced the funding for a coordinator for the Consortium of Colleges on the Creative Coast, or C4, and with one grand gesture may have altered the educational landscape of Southwest Florida forever more. 

“This is an opportunity to help the colleges maximize the benefits of the combined institution resources for our students,” says Laurey Stryker, who is managing the initiative. “This collaboration is significant.” Stryker, a former president of University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee, fills a new position created thanks to financial support from the Charles and Margery Barancik Foundation, Community Foundation of Sarasota County and Gulf Coast Community Foundation. The most immediate result of this partnership? Students at all the different schools will be able to register for classes at any C4 school while maintaining registration at a single home campus. But that’s just the start. “We each have assets we bring to this community,” says University of South Florida Chancellor Dr. Sandra Stone. “This brings a real brand to higher education in this community.” And with Florida State University at The Ringling and Eckerd College in Saint Petersburg also part of the larger conversation, a synergy has been sparked that gives the C4 network  access to expert resources in everything from law to art to marine science to hospitality.

Larry Thompson, president of Ringling College, says the establishment of C4 creates a place now to breed synergy. “The issue is creating structure to try and implement it,” Thompson says. New College President Donal O’Shea agrees, saying the complementary assets each school brings to the consortium makes the entire region stronger. Plus, the colleges now can do everything from pursuing federal grants in concert to prepping emergency response for natural disasters that could impact the entire community. “We are able to share our expertise among the institutions,” O’Shea says.

In other communities, notably Claremont, California, developing a consortium of colleges helped to rebrand the institutions collectively and also to develop a community identity built on academic prestige. Here, it moves the faculty and student bodies out of isolated ivory towers and into a cooperative posture. “We will market our region as a ‘multiversity,’” says Carol Probstfeld, president of SCF, “with almost all the characteristics of a research university.”

Stryker takes the responsibility seriously. “It’s deep,” she says. “The other part of this creative consortium is about how other relationships and institutions can also help.” Mote Marine now has a way to work with talent from all participating institutions, for example. Concerts conceived by the New College New Music program can now tap the creative abilities of students at Ringling College. And Stryker was excited at the news the University of Florida would open an Innovation Station for engineering classes in addition to an existing architecture facility the university operates here. 

Every school will continue to grow its offerings individually, which in turn will benefit the consortium as a whole. Stone notes her school has the only graduate curriculum, and Thompson notes that Ringling College, recently ranked by the Hollywood Reporter as the No. 17 film school in the country, broke ground last year on a soundstage. SCF now offers eight bachelor’s programs when a few short years ago the school only offered two-year degrees. And with consorting comes regional celebration, as every new program now boosts the network as a whole.