The University of the Future is Here

Higher Education

BY DONAL O'SHEA SRQ DAILY SATURDAY PERSPECTIVES EDITION SATURDAY APR 9, 2016

The announcement that the University of Florida will establish its first Engineering Innovation Station in Sarasota is thrilling news. The Sarasota-Bradenton-Venice region does not have, and badly needs, an engineering presence. We have CEOs of global companies who make their homes here, but who cannot move their operations here because we cannot supply the engineering talent. We have some very fine local high schools and universities. Some of the colleges offer rigorous science courses, but no local institution offers a credible first year engineering design course, let alone some of the more advanced engineering courses. Students interested in engineering must leave the area, and they often do not return. The new engineering presence can only help with pipeline issues from the local high schools, with hack-a-thons and design competitions, and with entrepreneurship curricula. The articulation program with State College of Florida will give local students a route into engineering, and New College and others are eager to explore dual degree programs with UF engineering. All of this will help local start-ups.  

Our region already has a number of distinguished nonprofit educational institutions: a fine, open access former community college (State College of Florida), a separately accredited regional comprehensive university (the University of South Florida at Sarasota-Manatee) that offers some professional masters degrees, a top-ranked national residential arts and science college that focuses on undergraduate education (New College of Florida) and a high quality arts and technical undergraduate institution (Ringling College of Art and Design). In addition, through the Ringling Museum and the Asolo Conservatory, Florida State University offers an MFA program, and is adding some additional masters programs in the arts. These schools comprise one of every Carnegie-type institution with the exception of a research intensive university. Their missions are complementary, and they do not compete. In January 2016, these institutions and Eckerd College announced the establishment of the Consortium of Colleges of the Creative Coast (the C4 group). The group, itself supported by a collaboration among three local foundations (the Gulf Coast Community Foundation of Venice, the Community Foundation of Sarasota, and the Charles and Margery Barancik Foundation), has embarked on a number of cooperative efforts. A student at any one of the institutions will soon be able to take courses for credit at any other institutions without money changing hands, and we will see even more collaborative degree programs.

The Bradenton-Sarasota-Venice area has a rich cultural and artistic life and some very interesting start-ups and businesses. Yet it is one of the few developed areas of Florida without a full-scale research university. It does have, however, most of the components that comprise a research-intensive university with the exception of a first-rate engineering program. And the UF program promises to plug this gap. The C4 members offer diverse undergraduate programs, as well as some graduate programs. For example, in addition to FSU’s celebrated MFA program and future graduate programs in museum education, USF-SM offers an MBA and graduate education degrees, as well as very strong degrees in Hospitality Management. FSU also offers a medical residency program in conjunction with Sarasota Memorial Hospital, a very highly rated nonprofit hospital. New College has just started a cutting edge graduate program in data science with a focus on large data sets, and Ringling College is contemplating some graduate programs. The University of Florida has established a satellite facility called City Lab-Sarasota that offers a Master of Architecture Degree, as well as an IFAS extension in Sarasota.  We have a number of high-quality, non-profit private research institutes in the area:  these include Mote Marine Laboratory which focuses on ocean and environmental research, the Roskamp Institute which focuses on biomedical research, Selby Botanical Gardens which has a strong botanical research group, and the Eiling O. Eide Center, Research Library and Preserve, which will become a magnet for research in Asian studies

In thinking about the university of the future, I can hardly think of a better model than having three of Florida’s research intensive institutions—FSU, UF and USF—offer satellite operations in this region that draw on the distinctive intellectual strengths of those institutions, and that together with local institutions, afford the region the economic and human capital that a full scale research intensive university would bring. This sort of collaboration realizes some of the deepest goals of the State University System Board of Governors, the Florida College System, and national educational organizations. It will provide the nation and the state with a new and vibrant model for higher education and research. And, most importantly, it offers our students and our region an unparalleled opportunity to take their place in our ever more global world.

Dr. Donal O'Shea is the president of New College of Florida.

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