Opinion: STEM education is the key to Florida’s economic future

Technical research universities like Florida Poly are a proven magnet for industry growth, President Randy Avent writes.

Innovation, Science and Technology building at Florida Polytechnic University.

Innovation, Science and Technology building at Florida Polytechnic University. Photo by John Greim/LightRocket via Getty Images

The state of Florida has a big job ahead as it works to expand its prominence on the national and international economic landscapes. Segments like tourism and agriculture have long fueled and shaped the state’s economy, but to continue competing and having a robust economy that raises our standard of living, Florida needs to attract the high-tech industries that are transforming the world.

Although many tech giants have long embraced the state and brought their high-wage jobs to Florida, there remains a great need for more tech corporations and the qualified professionals necessary to help them grow. In fact, Florida has more than 55,000 unfilled STEM jobs each month, according to the Florida Chamber of Commerce. Filling these positions with talented professionals is the fuel needed for the state to compete on the global stage and make an impact. 

Florida Polytechnic University, the state’s only all-STEM university, was created to produce a steady stream of high-skill engineering graduates ready to work and adapt in their chosen science, technology, engineering, and math fields from day one. It originally offered six engineering degrees with the most popular degrees being electrical engineering and computer science, two degrees that a recent CBS News analysis reported led to the highest paying careers soon after graduation.

Since then, the University has added three new applied science degrees and is in the process of adding new bachelor’s degrees in civil engineering and industrial engineering, two fields that the Department of Economic Opportunity identified as having some of the largest workforce gaps in Florida.

Our university is unique within the state in that our academic experience is centered around a small-class, project-based curriculum that attracts and retains the highest performing students in Florida who don’t want a large comprehensive university experience. In most university settings, the type of academic environment Florida Poly provides is often costly. However, we provide this excellent education at an average cost that aligns with the other State University System’s engineering degrees.

And our alumni are making an impact on the tech world and finding great success. According to MyFloridaFuture, a university research tool created by the State University System of Florida, the vast majority of our recent graduates found jobs or continued their education within one year of graduating and are doing so with the highest median salary of all SUS institutions. In fact, our graduates are expected to make more than three times the average graduate within the State University System over their lifetime.

Technical research universities like Florida Poly are a proven magnet for industry growth, as high-tech employers are eager to access the pipeline of high-demand, low-supply graduates we produce. In 2018 alone, the annual total economic impact of Florida Poly was independently calculated to be $289 million with 2,350 jobs created, and that has continued to grow as the University grows.

A perfect example of attracting industry is Fortune 500 company IFF, which recently broke ground on its Global Citrus Innovation Center right on the Florida Poly campus. The University’s partnership with IFF will foster research collaborations and provide internships and job opportunities to students. It’s the first step toward a bustling research park anchored by the University. Diversifying the state’s economy with companies of IFF’s caliber promotes stability and prosperity long into the future.

Florida Poly is providing great value to Florida from its state-of-the-art campus in Lakeland, and the nation is taking notice. U.S. News and World Report ranked us as the No. 1 public college in the region for two years in a row, and a national top-30 public engineering program without a Ph.D. The University also ranked No. 21 nationally among all universities for best career outcomes, an achievement that places us ahead of both Harvard and Stanford, according to WalletHub’s 2023’s Best Universities Ranking.

Florida Poly’s role as a mighty economic engine for the state of Florida continues to strengthen. With a commitment to attracting industry and producing STEM graduates ready to excel in the real world, the University is already having a powerful effect on the state’s economy that will only grow from here.

Dr. Randy Avent is President of Florida Polytechnic University in Lakeland. Views expressed are those of the author and not of the City & State Florida editorial staff.

NEXT STORY: Opinion: A shortage of dental professionals plagues Florida. Lawmakers in Tallahassee can change that