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Florida Trend: A new paradigm for higher education in Florida

Monday, June 04, 2012

Both public and private colleges have grown more entrepreneurial in providing educational services outside the four-year, on-campus model.

Meet the new model of higher education, where the focus is shifting away from traditional, younger college students who live on campus and study on a four-year degree track. Today, more students are taking courses online — nationwide, 31.3% took at least one online course in 2010 compared to 9.6% in 2002. Some are earning degrees without ever stepping inside a classroom or speaking face to face to a professor.

In addition, the average age of college students is rising — 28.3% who got a bachelor’s or higher in 2001 were between ages 25 and 64. In 2008, the percentage was 31.5%. Returning Iraq and Afghanistan veterans are helping push the numbers as they return home and hold jobs while attending college classes at night. Laid-off workers are going back to school to get new training or degrees so they can start new careers.

Older Grads

31.5% of students earning bachelor’s degrees or higher in 2008 were between ages 25 and 64. Up from 28.3% in 2001

Source: “2010 Digest of Education Statistics” from the National Center for Education Statistics

According to the Independent Colleges & Universities of Florida — a group that represents 29 private schools with a combined enrollment of 133,000 — 25% of those students are categorized as “non-traditional.”

“Higher ed is changing,” says Ed Moore, ICUF’s president. “The whole delivery system is changing. The returning student, the non-traditional student, the student going back to get a different degree to meet changing economics and new industries — these are the new markets,” he says. “And the new markets are the fastest-growing markets.”

Colleges and universities are scrambling to come up with programs to attract and serve these non-traditional students:

» In 2008, the University of Central Florida created the Non-Traditional Knights Project, which helps older students get access to a variety of services, from childcare to veterans support. The program also offers career advice.

» Rollins College in Winter Park is partnering with the 16-member Associated Colleges of the South to offer its students access to upper-level online courses available from any ACS school. Rollins President Lewis Duncan calls the program “the new paradigm initiative.”

» The University of South Florida St. Petersburg has created a fully online master’s degree program in digital journalism and design. The coursework is designed for traditional students and for journalists adapting to their changing industry. USFSP also won a $409,299 grant this spring to help veterans seeking a master’s degree in business administration.

Another sign of change: Before Gov. Rick Scott allowed the former USF Polytechnic to become the state’s 12th public university, state Rep. Will Weatherford, a Republican from Wesley Chapel and the next House Speaker, suggested that the state board of governors study the feasibility of making the state’s next college “a virtual university,” where all the classes would be taken online.

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