Writer: Max Crampton-Thomas
2 min read September 2019 — The Tampa Bay region is home to a slew of world-class and innovative higher education universities, the newest being Florida Polytechnic University located in Lakeland, Florida. This innovative university has quickly become a training ground for the future technical workforce in Florida. Invest: Tampa Bay recently sat with Randy Avent, the founding president for Florida Polytechnic University who expressed his excitement about the possibilities for the university. During the course of his interview, he spoke about how Florida Polytechnic is playing a major role in the economic development of Polk County, the greatest challenge facing the school and what the near-future will look like for the university.
How is Florida Polytechnic University a key to economic growth in Polk County?
Technical research universities have a tremendous influence on growing the economies in the areas that surround them, and that is what we plan to do for Polk County and the entire state of Florida. Economic growth begins by creating high-skilled, high-wage, high-tech jobs and you do that through excellence in education. Each of these jobs is accompanied by several midwage positions that support it, which ultimately leads to a stronger overall economy. Companies want to be located near universities known for producing graduates in high-demand fields with low supply. They feed from this pipeline of high-technology talent that is ready to lead in industry and to create the next innovations that will disrupt the status quo.
What is the biggest challenge facing the university?
As a new university, there are always challenges. The day we opened the university we had a full student body and were doing $30 million dollars worth of business. The university is still a startup because we are only six years into this and most universities have been around for more than 50 years. It will take time for the dust to settle and one challenge will be to continue attracting students who can be successful in a curriculum like this. We want to retain high-quality students in Florida by offering them a curriculum that is different from the institutions they’re looking at out of state. We are also an attractive option because only 11% of our students are graduating with debt and the average debt is only $7,000.
What is on the horizon for the university?
We will continue growing and developing our curriculum. We are very fortunate that we were able to hire the provost from Colorado School of Mines, which USA Today ranked as the No. 1 engineering school three years in a row. He has led an effort to rebuild and grow the curriculum, and that includes making sure that it meets national standards. We are also hoping to break ground on the new Applied Research Center where we will continue to grow our research efforts. In the past, we grew the student body extraordinarily fast as part of our startup, and we have been trying to catch up on growing the faculty body. We are focusing less on growing the class now and more on shaping it and that has allowed us to catch up with faculty hiring. We also want to continue building our graduate program because a graduate program is the lifeblood of a research university, so that is an area that we will be focusing on as well.
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