One of Tallahassee’s most successful attorneys, Randy Hanna, took the reins of the Florida College System in November. After starting as a law clerk at Bryant Miller Olive in 1982, he was the firm’s managing shareholder for 14 years – during which it grew from three offices to seven and from ten attorneys and consultants to 50. All the while, Hanna served as chairman of the State Board of Community Colleges, as a trustee at both Florida A&M University and the University of West Florida, and as vice chair of the board of trustees at Tallahassee Community College. Now, as chancellor, Hanna is the leader of 28 institutions – all of which are seeing new challenges in the economic downturn.
The Florida College System is made up of 28 two- and four-year colleges that provide the primary access point to higher education for 800,000 students. About 66 percent of high-school graduates start their postsecondary education at a Florida college, as do 81 percent of freshman and sophomore minority students. Students who earn an associate’s degree are guaranteed transfer to one of Florida’s 11 state universities
The News Service of Florida has five questions for Hanna:
Q: The colleges are the primary entry point for higher education in Florida. What are state leaders expecting you to do to help boost the economy?
HANNA: I think the governor, the commissioner of education and the state board of education realize that the college system can play a major role in training Florida’s workforce. They are all expecting our system to continue the progress that we have shown…but also to enhance completion rates, enhance retention rates, enhance placement rates, make sure our programs are directly designed to put people into jobs – and into jobs that meet Florida’s workforce needs, especially in the more high-tech areas. They are looking to our system as one of the primary means of training that workforce. Part of the equation of getting people to work is making sure they have the right skill sets.
Q: How do you know what the right skill sets are?
HANNA: The beauty of our system is for the local college with the local board to focus on the local and regional workforce needs…Almost all of our college presidents sit on their local workforce boards. There’s a direct connection at the local level between the workforce boards and what the colleges are doing. They’re designing programs to meet the local and regional workforce needs. One of the problems that we have is that we’re Florida’s best kept secret, and we need to get the word out about what we offer.
Across the state, as we go from one college to another, you will see the Advanced Manufacturing Training Center at Tallahassee Community College, you will see incubator facilities where colleges are working with start-up businesses in a number of different areas. You’ll see programs in digital design. You’ll see allied health programs. You’ll see programs like the one at Indian River State College, where they’re focused on laser technology.
But you’ll also see programs like at Florida State College at Jacksonville, where they have a big ship-building industry, and they have a huge welding program to train people to work in the ship-building industry.
Q: We’ve been hearing a lot about the need for Florida to boost its STEM disciplines – science, technology, engineering and math. What are the colleges doing to help?
HANNA: When people talk about STEM, they think about the universities. And while that’s an important place to focus, the Florida college system has been in the STEM business forever, because we’re doing the general education to get those students into the state university system. We’re giving them the foundation in the math and the sciences. We’re seeing a specialized focus now to make sure that we are targeting a number of our students into those areas and showing them the opportunities.
We’re seeing more and more health care programs. All of our colleges offer nursing programs, and many have started offering baccalaureate nursing programs because of the huge demand.
Our placement rates for nurses and the allied care areas are in the 80 and 90 percent range.
The answer is, “Yes, we’re in STEM and always have been.”
Q: Florida’s colleges and universities traditionally have had a strong working relationship. Has the economic downturn affected that?
HANNA: Over the last few years, there’s been a closer working relationship between the colleges and the universities. The rest of the U.S. is so envious of the articulation agreement that we have with our universities. People come here and say, “Wait a minute, you mean you get a two-year degree and you’re automatically admitted into one of the universities?” Very few other states have that seamless system.
Over the last few years, our universities have begun to work with students when they come into the Florida college system. For instance, at the University of Central Florida, they have something called Direct Connect – you’re treated like a UCF student. The University of West Florida is doing it with colleges in the Panhandle – it’s called Direct Admit. At Santa Fe College, they have a Gator Room. Tallahassee Community College has always had a great relationship with Florida State University, and now Florida A&M is putting counselors on the TCC campus. I see a direct pipeline to both FSU and FAMU from there.
Q: How has the economic downturn affected enrollment? Aren’t more people going back to school to brush up their skills?
HANNA: When the economy goes down, people go back to college. So our enrollments increase, significantly, and we have seen that throughout the state. But when the economy goes down, the funding per student – paid for by the state – also goes down.
When older students come back to college, they’re generally not like an 18-year-old just out of high school. I don’t think the economy has had an effect on the level of preparation of those students. It would be just like you or I going back to college right now. I would need some refresher courses.
So when those students come back, we’re finding we have to do some college prep work with them, and we’re trying to use new, innovative methods to reduce the number of students in college prep.