Regionalization of higher ed moves forward with director, targeting resources
By Paola Iuspa
With a newly named executive director and support from educators, the South Florida Consortium of Higher Education spearheaded by the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce is surging ahead.
In less than two months since its launch, members of the consortium - which named Mary Lou Tighe, chamber staff member since 1983, executive director - and a group of representatives for area universities and colleges have shown they are willing to work together, said Dabney Park, chairman of chamber's education committee.
The consortium, he said, aims to market South Florida's higher education system and work at improving its role in the community by bringing educators and students closer to the business sector, Mr. Park said.
"The first step was to pick the executive director; and we did that," he said. "Now we are focusing on determining what the resources for higher education are and what the community needs are.
"South Florida is a global economic engine and higher education plays a big role. The consortium's job will be to determine if we need to put more emphasis and money in research and technology or other activities."
He said increasing the number of professionals coming out of schools would help attract companies to relocate or expand in the area. The consortium is expected to have the collaboration of the 18 higher education institutions in Broward, Miami-Dade, Monroe and Palm Beach counties.
The University of Miami and Florida International University in Miami-Dade have agreed in principle to be part of the initiative, said Mr. Park, a senior partner with Performance Executive Search & Management Consulting.
Michele Morris, a spokeswoman for Barry University, said the university's president, Sister Jeanne O'Laughlin, has sent a letter of support. Sister O'Laughlin, she said, "looked forward to the positive effect this initiative would have on education in South Florida.
"Sister Jeanne is ready to serve in any way possible," Ms. Morris said.
The next step, organizers said, is to secure the consortium's membership, which calls for higher-education institutions to pay an average of $5,000 in the first year, $10,000 in the second and $15,000 in the third, a chamber document said. Those fees are to help match $400,000 the John S. & James L. Knight Foundation donated to the chamber for the initiative in June.
"A next step will be to coordinate with the 18 universities to develop a plan of action," said Ramiro Ortiz, chamber chairman.
Mr. Ortiz said chamber officials have been holding breakfast meetings with educators to share the chamber's vision in which universities and colleges would have experts in different fields complement rather than compete against each other or duplicate efforts. He said the response has been positive.
Ray Ferrero Jr., president of Nova Southeastern University based in Broward, said he was eager to get involved with the consortium, which could increase collaboration among public universities, community colleges and independent institutions.
"Institutions are beginning to realize we are one region," Mr. Ferrero said. "The more we collaborate with each other and build our strengths, the better it will be. Each of us brings a different strength to the region."
Before beginning to market South Florida's higher education system, consortium members said they plan to conduct a higher education economic impact study, create a catalog with programs being offered in the region, identify which fields universities and colleges excel at and develop a marketing plan, Mr. Park said.
Task teams within the consortium would target ways to make higher education more accessible, Mr. Park said. He said about 18% of the region's population has a bachelor's degree while in the rest of the country that figure is 25% and in competing cities such as Atlanta, Austin and Boston, the percentage is more than 30%.
Other task force teams could create new programs or expand existing efforts to train students in the information technology field and increase fundamental and applied research, Mr. Park said.
Ms. Tighe - who is also senior vice president of chamber areas that operate under the banners of governmental affairs, regional issues, ethics in business & government and the empowerment zone - said she would oversee day-to-day operations for the consortium.
William Cullom, the chamber's president and CEO, said the chamber is also taking a regional approach to transportation issues and getting county governments to work closer to create a stronger bloc in Tallahassee.
Mr. Park credited past chamber chairman Philip Blumberg, president and CEO of American Ventures Corp., with initiating the regionalism efforts.
Mr. Blumberg said it took about a year of "behind the scenes" preparations to get to this point. He said he hopes higher-education cooperative efforts blossom into a high-tech corridor, higher level of state and private funds and a better integration of the business community.
"Where the private sector assists universities through funding," he said, "and universities assist the public sector through researching and the creation of an entrepreneurial environment."