Special Feature: News Service of Florida Interview with Chancellor Randy Hanna

Interview by News Service Florida with Randy Hanna, Chancellor, Florida College System

By Margie Menzel

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 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.

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Students’ Return on Investment

The Department of Education serves as a data repository for a variety of information allowing us to track student performance across time and in varying education sectors. Starting this month, the Department will embark upon a joint project with the Florida Council of 100 to determine the state’s return on investment for students attending various postsecondary educational institutions. The goal of this project is to track graduates of Florida’s public schools as they transition from colleges and universities into the workforce. The data analysis will examine the various jobs and wages these students obtain and compare them with the state’s costs of providing those same students with the postsecondary training and education they received within our education system. This unique opportunity will pull from existing data sources including the Department’s Education Data Warehouse as well as the Florida Education and Training Placement Information Program (FETPIP).

Giving Florida students an edge in the global economy

Guest post by DOE Educational Policy Development Director Lydia Southwell

In today’s marketplace, we are not just working with and competing with the person next to us, we are a part of a global economy and need to ensure our students are prepared for the challenge.

As we celebrate International Education Week this year, it is a good opportunity to reflect and promote the importance of “Inspiring Students Locally to Succeed Globally,” the theme for this year’s celebration.

So what is Florida doing to prepare its students?

Many Florida school districts offer dual language programs, which means part of the school day is taught in another language.

Some districts also offer special exchange programs, such as Palm Beach County’s relationship with the Ministry of Education and Science of the Kingdom of Spain. The effort allows some Florida teachers to teach in Spain and some Spanish teachers to teach in Florida. The experience is beneficial for both the students and the teachers. The district’s students also have the opportunity to hold live online chat sessions with Spanish students.

Colleges and universities throughout the state also offer study abroad programs that are extremely beneficial in two ways:

  1. When American students study in other nations they learn more than what is in their syllabi, they learn the culture, something that cannot be taught in a classroom.
  2. International education is a vital service industry, bringing more than $20 billion into our country in 2009-10. According to Open Doors, 260,327 U.S. students studied abroad in 2008-09, and 690,923 international students from more than 200 countries studied in the U.S. in 2009-10.

But we are not stopping there.

Before full implementation of the Common Core State Standards, Florida is gathering information about how our students compare internationally in reading, mathematics and science. We are participating in Trends in the International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS), the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS), and the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA).  Adjustments to Florida standards will be made based on the results of these studies.

Do your children participate in dual language or study abroad programs? What has their experience been?


Commissioner Talks Higher Education

Commissioner Robinson speaks with Miami-Dade County Public Schools

Commissioner Robinson

Last week, I had the opportunity to attend the Florida Board of Governors meetings in Miami. It was great meeting my fellow members and discussing on how we can improve and streamline our K-20 system. We also had good conversations around the challenges our higher education system is experiencing, including increased defaults on student loans and very lean budgets. On a lighter note, I was pleased to hear how Florida A & M University was ranked one of the best historically black universities on the U.S. News and World Report list. 

Whether it’s the BOG, Council of Presidents or Higher Education Coordinating Council, having an active role in these meetings is critical in our work to align our education resources and create graduates and programs that not only complement each other, but work to grow our economy. 

The State Board of Education is set to meet tomorrow in Orlando where we will continue these types of discussions. I encourage you to tune in to that meeting so you can stay informed about all facets of our education system.

A Motto Matters


 Video of Commissioner Robinson’s back-to-school message, including information about the new motto.

A motto is a good way to convey an ethos of any organization.  As Florida’s new Commissioner of Education, I am implementing a new motto in support of the strategic plan approved by the State Board of Education and to guide the spirit of our work at the Department:

Supporting Colleges, Careers, Commerce & Creativity

 Everything we do as a FLDOE team must support the essential building blocks of our state and national economy. This means:

  • Preparing high school graduates for the rigor of a quality postsecondary education.
  • Equipping young people and adults with employable skills in high-wage earning careers.
  • Creating public-private partnerships to encourage economic development and strengthen local and statewide commerce.
  • Thinking creatively about how best to deliver and manage our seamless system of education.

In closing, I am honored to be part of the Florida Department of Education. These are exciting times for our state, and I want you to know that your Department of Education is Supporting Colleges, Careers, Commerce & Creativity.

University Dreams Now a Reality for More Floridians

Guest post: Florida College System Chancellor Will Holcombe 

For decades, students have had an opportunity to pursue their higher education dreams through a cost-effective partnership our Florida Colleges share with the State University System. This type of program allows students to attend their university of choice and obtain a high-caliber university education, without the worries of relocating. The 2+2 Pathways to Success program is just the solution for any student who wants to pursue their college dreams – all with the help of a local Florida college campus within their community. 

Take for instance the University of Central Florida. Here, a student can become a Golden Knight by earning credits and taking coursework at any one of the 28 colleges inFlorida. But for those students who prefer to stay within the Central Florida region, UCF has worked closely with six Florida colleges specifically, including Brevard Community College,College of Central Florida, Daytona State College, Lake-Sumter Community College, Seminole State College of Florida and Valencia College.

Does it sound like this program can help you reach your university dreams? What is your dream university in Florida?

Florida College System Month

For decades, the Florida College System has long served communities throughout the state – providing valuable resources to many students who seek higher education to improve upon, or learn new skills. They are one of our state’s most essential workforce drivers and their central mission of open access has created countless opportunities for Floridians. In fact, this mission of open access has resulted in a number one ranking in the nation for associate degree production for the last eight years, and it serves as one of the many reasons we should celebrate and honor Florida College System month this April.  

More people are relying on the solid foundation a Florida college education provides, and with a slower than expected economic recovery, the need for more individuals to obtain higher education is paramount. Over the past three years, the Florida College System has grown by more than 104,000 students, even as individual campus operating budgets have declined.  By keeping open access at the front of their agenda, these institutions of higher learning have enabled Floridians to access important job training programs and college degrees at a time when they need it the most.

Not only have our colleges made the commitment to accept more students in recent years, they have also accommodated the many needs of our ever-changing population. New program areas have been developed as a result of specific community and industry needs, such as those in health, science, teaching and nursing.

As we have continued to push the envelope, our colleges have sought out innovative ways to diversify course offerings – whether it’s through a virtual means or by utilizing the latest cutting-edge technology for instruction. Many of our colleges have begun offering four-year bachelor’s degrees in specific subject areas that are vital to Florida’s economy.

Our colleges continue to step up during these challenging times, providing opportunity and hope in a time of uneasiness. They are truly marvelous institutions, and I encourage all Floridians to celebrate all that they do for us, not only this month, but every month of the year.