Face Off: The future of higher education in South Florida

Face Off: The future of higher education in South Florida

2022-07-14T03:29:31-04:00August 6th, 2021|Economy, Education, Miami|

Writer: Joshua Andino 

2 min read August 2021Despite the challenges of the last year and a half, South Florida’s higher education sector has remained resilient. Madeline Pumariega, president of Miami Dade College, and Mike Allen, president of Barry University, spoke on how their universities are capitalizing on the changes and trends that have been brought to the forefront over the last year  as well as their predictions for the future. 

What have been some of the most significant recent changes/innovations in higher education and for your university over the last year?

Madeline Pumariega

Madeline Pumariega: The higher education sector is seeing a big disruption accelerated by the pandemic. One, you’re not going to see continued increased state budgets for higher education. At some level, it will sustain itself to where we are today, where about 50% of our budget comes from the state and the other 50% comes from tuition. So, I think higher education is going to have to continue diversifying its funding model by looking at monetizing other aspects of the college that might increase our endowment. We also have to look at growing our enrollment. There is no doubt that what is happening in Miami-Dade County right now and the development of the tech scene will lead to a greater need for more human capital, more talent. The college is at the forefront of this movement, something which we’ve already been advancing through our partnerships with Tesla, Google and Amazon, as examples. 

Mike AllenMike Allen: The first question that students and families are looking to now is not necessarily what they are going to learn, but how. That has truly moved to people’s forefront. 

We have always been an in-person university and that’s not changing. The personal touch is central to who we are and who we will be. That said, there are some programs we may be able to grow and expand because we can teach in a hybrid format. We’re focused on meeting our students where they want to be, and it’s a fun conversation that is going on right now.

Simultaneously, we’re engaging in parts of a comprehensive strategic planning effort for our university. We’re leading into this with a Strategic Enrollment Plan (SEP). What this entails is looking at all the programs that we carry, particularly academic programs, and looking at them from a number of different perspectives, including the needs and interests of prospective students. It also takes into account what industries are doing, where the jobs are, where the growing opportunities for our students are. It also entails looking at what our competition is doing and trying to find, as a medium-sized institution, the right niche for us where we can really have an impact and fill a need that students have, that industries have. We expect our SEP effort to conclude this summer with some really helpful outcomes in terms of which programs make the most sense for us to invest in and where we might pull back. 

How are you looking to support local & growing industries, like technology?

Pumariega: We’re concentrating on capacity building. How do we build capacity so that everybody has the opportunity to level up? We’re looking to help people obtain industry certifications in technology, and making sure the credentials are stackable. A learner can gain an industry certification, which leads to a college credit certificate, and that leads to an associate, and then a bachelor’s degree. They can also obtain employment with that certification as they study. I think this is the best way we can serve the tech needs of businesses and students.

Artificial intelligence is an area in which you’ll see us expanding and not just in tech but across many sectors. Healthcare, for instance, has a big future with AI. This technology is impacting the way we learn and the way we live. Generally speaking, I see us expanding more deeply into healthcare via new technologies. The World Health Organization said there will be about 40 million more jobs in healthcare by 2030. You also really can’t talk about Miami and not talk about the trade and logistics area. This has always been and will continue to be a huge industry for us. We will continue working with industry partners in this area and growing through innovation. 

Allen: We have a group called the Academic Leadership Council, which is a subset of the Beacon Council. It gathers all the presidents of the Miami universities as well as the superintendent of Miami-Dade schools. We come together periodically to talk about areas in which higher ed can best align with local industries. Conversations of late have really been centered on technology and how we can bolster our efforts to educate in technology-related fields so that our graduates are ready to enter the workforce on day one and have an impact. There is a place for all disciplines to evolve, mature and to match the pace of industry. 

One of the things that many people do not realize about Barry is just how comprehensive a university we are. We have slightly more graduate students than we do undergraduate students out of more than 7,500 total students. We have a law school in Orlando and a podiatric medical school on our campus but we also have all the traditional undergraduate programs and a lot of your traditional master’s and doctoral programs. We have these capabilities because of the eclectic nature of what we offer to meet industry needs in a lot of different places. Without question, one of our strongest areas is healthcare. We are working closely with many of the local hospital systems to meet many of their needs that are now becoming increasingly critical. There is a tremendous shortage of nurses, for example. We have a wonderful nursing program here. We have a partnership with Baptist Hospital where they help us train our nurses while they are students. Our graduates then go to work at Baptist after they finish up with us. We’re looking to certainly build out more of those partnerships. 

What does the future hold for your institution?

Pumariega: I really see that students are going to want a personalized approach. One of our objectives is reimagining the student journey through the college. We believe that the kind of acceleration that happened to the work culture because of the pandemic is also going to happen to education. How do we make sure that we not only drive high-quality programs but also drive innovation? We want to make sure we are at the forefront of the vast changes that are happening in the sector.

Our fall enrollment will have courses in person, online and a live hybrid version. Our student support services are up and running, and the college is open. We have been open for services since last summer. We will plan more on-campus activities as well, something which already began this spring with commencement. Moving toward normalcy is something everyone at MDC is looking forward to.

Allen: Our future is incredibly bright and exciting. We have come together in such a powerful way as a community during the most challenging times we could have imagined. We rallied quickly. We were creative. We worked together. There are going to be more challenging times on all of our horizons, but the fact that we were able to navigate this together and learn how to problem solve together bodes really well for our future and much, hopefully, simpler and promising times for South Florida, our country and the world. 

Fostering a truly inclusive community and fighting for social justice are long-standing pillars of our Barry University Mission, woven into all aspects of our teaching and engagement. As we move into the future, we will continue to realize our Mission through instruction as well as our many community partnerships. A Barry education is a powerful path to social mobility and creating a more inclusive and equitable society. 

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