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Sunshine State News: STEM Field Grads Help Bring New Business to Florida’s Economy

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Gov. Rick Scott’s 2012 Job Creation and Economic Growth agenda includes an encouraging focus on Florida’s STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) subjects.

Florida’s higher education graduates have a huge effect on the state’s business community and these programs are important to bolster a work force that attracts new businesses to the state. We are always pleased to see a governor stress the value of higher education to the Florida economy.

Business interests looking to succeed in an ever-changing, global marketplace migrate to states that boast a skilled and educated work force. Increasingly, our students will require a full toolbox of skills and talents to adapt to the highly volatile demands of the future economy. They must be able to learn and relearn continuously throughout their careers.

STEM talents, though critically important, should go hand in hand with a full array of degrees; all part of our collective efforts to produce citizens able to add to the vibrancy of our economy and our society. We pursue knowledge, in part, to make us a better people. It is interesting that we celebrate the Renaissance, where learning of all kinds took great leaps forward and society also leapt forward.

STEM subjects, along with many tangential fields which are just as critical as STEM — economics, arts and design fields — should be a part of this plan in both K-12 and in higher education. An educated society fosters innovation and entrepreneurship.

Growing sustainable private-sector jobs is one key to expanding the state’s economy. New businesses in Florida increase the number of job opportunities and increase our graduates’ chances of landing a good job in the state. STEM fields play a critical role in long-term economic development efforts. Focusing our education community on these subjects will help keep Florida competitive.

Florida’s higher education institutions do create employees who meet the needs of the business community. Florida needs graduates in many fields, including STEM fields, to meet the growing demand; universities need to increase research that can ultimately promote economic growth in Florida; and universities should work hand in hand with Florida businesses to develop services like business incubators to promote targeted economic growth.

The governor is correct. We do need to focus on STEM. We also need to focus on the production of students entering college capable of mastering, in both speech and writing, at least one language. Too many students still leave our high schools deficient in English skills and requiring remediation. Our higher education institutions have capacity to expand STEM access. We can too easily fill these seats with qualified foreign students.

We need more qualified and interested Florida high school graduates in these fields. The market has a tremendous influence on issues of access and production. The governor’s discussion should shine a bright light on how best to produce needed degrees and also stimulate interest in our high schools.

Just as large corporations require technical departments, but also require marketing, human resources and accounting, so do our students require the full range of educational exposure so each of their toolkits are as full as possible. We are pleased to see the governor focused on the valuable role of higher education in our economy. We need more graduates in STEM fields and in many fields. We need more educated in Floridians.

Guest column: Dr. Ed H. Moore is president and CEO, Independent Colleges and Universities of Florida.

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