Guest op-ed: An education in Florida’s college system pays big dividends

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The following is a guest op-ed from Joe Pickens, Chair of the Florida College System of Presidents.

Parents have long told their children about the value of a college education, and Florida’s colleges certainly agree. Now, for the first time, we have detailed research to prove what we have always believed: An education from one of Florida’s public colleges is a value that can’t be beat, for students and taxpayers alike. 

Florida’s 28 state and community colleges, collectively the Florida College System (FCS), open their doors to high school graduates who want more – more job skills, more knowledge, a more affordable way to obtain higher education. There are many ways to measure success, and we are proud of a new study that shows just how well FCS schools succeed in one of the key measurements, dollars and cents. 

FCS commissioned Economic Modeling Specialists International (EMSI) to conduct a detailed analysis. These experts determined that our member schools pump an additional $26.6 billion per year into the state’s economy by producing well-educated graduates who are better prepared to become high-income earners. 

Local colleges play such a vital role in the life of a community. Especially in locations that are too far a drive from a traditional four-year university, our colleges provide outstanding educational opportunities for the next generation of leaders. They also provide jobs within the community and a highly skilled workforce to handle the essential jobs of the future. 

We clearly are doing something right. Last year our member colleges awarded 106,000 degrees and certifications, and 93 percent of our students choose to remain in Florida and contribute to economic growth. Thanks to the education they receive at FCS schools, our bachelor’s degree graduates earn average starting salaries 13.3 percent higher than the average Florida salary and associate in science graduates start 8.2 percent above the average salary. Our job placement rates are extraordinary, as within a year seven out of every eight of our graduates find a good job or further their education. 

A good education system benefits our entire state. The EMSI study identifies social benefits from education, including reduced incidences of absenteeism, alcohol abuse and smoking, lower probability of committing crime, and fewer welfare and unemployment claims. The EMSI analysts estimated that the 2011-12 student population at the Florida College System will generate social savings to the Florida public equal to $158.6 million a year. 

According to the study, Florida College System students enjoy an attractive 16.8 percent average rate of return on their educational investment. Compare that to state government’s a rate of return of 9.4 percent on its investments, and it’s easy to see the bargain that FCS schools represent. 

All these numbers add up to a single conclusion: The Florida College System is living up to its mission of helping to bolster the economic foundation of our state and enrich the lives of our fellow Floridians. Beyond just the numbers, our schools are producing skilled workers for essential fields such as nursing, teaching and business. 

All of us in the Florida College System are proud to be associated with one of the finest win-win situations Florida has going for it. Clearly, an investment in the Florida College System is an investment in Florida’s future.


Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including,,, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.