The Sunshine State––home to Disney World, more beaches than any other state in the nation, and according to new rankings from U.S. News and World Report, now the number one state in the United States for higher education––Florida is more than a vacation destination. Besides tourism, which is a driving industry for the state’s economy, Florida is in a unique position to serve out-of-towners while still maintaining a quality of living that speaks to diverse demographics: elderly and retired communities, immigrant families and non-native English speakers, and, being the third most populous state in the nation, a local population that spans the socio-economic spectrum.
Florida: Diversity and Responsibility in Higher Education
Being the third most populous state in the nation, and having a high population of immigrants and non-native English speakers, means Florida colleges and universities across the state have a responsibility to serve a diverse population. In recent years Florida has made efforts to diversify its higher education institutions. For example, the University of Florida’s College of Dentistry has set a high standard for the state after receiving the HEED Award two years in a row, which nationally honors colleges or universities in the healthcare profession that demonstrate an outstanding commitment to diversity.
The state of Florida also takes special efforts to serve students with disabilities through two Florida Statutes (1007.264 and 1007.265) that allow for accommodations including extended time on or alternate locations for exams, preferred classroom seating, note-takers, and use of adaptive technologies for any qualifying student with a disability who may need such help.
Florida’s Public and Private Colleges
Florida’s higher education system is comprised of over 220 colleges and universities from the associates to professional levels, both private and public institutions, many of which offer online courses and programs as well. Of these institutions, 77 are nonprofit private colleges or universities while 43 are public institutions and 108 of them are for-profit private schools. Because of the high number of for-profit colleges in the state, Florida is an example of how, in some areas of the country, higher education is merging from a service-based network of institutions to a profit bearing industry.
The State University System of Florida is made up of twelve universities, all of which serve a diverse set of students. In fact, about 65% of Florida high school graduates go on to pursue postsecondary education, and about 82% of these freshman and sophomore students are minority students in public higher education that attend one of Florida’s 28 colleges. The Florida College System is especially committed to serving minorities. In fact, a huge portion of Florida State University students are the first in their families to attend college.
The Florida Shines program is a unique virtual hub that aims to “empower all of Florida’s 20,000,000 residents to earn a college degree and find a bright career.” The program works with 40 Florida colleges and universities to provide a landing site for major college resources including links to register for online courses, search libraries, and receive advisement and other student services. The Florida Virtual Campus (FLVC) is a statewide program that is funded by the state and incorporated all of the state’s public universities on an accessible online platform.
Paying for College in Florida
Florida residents are able to pay significantly lower tuition by attending a Florida State college or university than students from other states and the average in-state tuition cost for a public university in Florida averages around $6,000 per year for full-time students. Still, many students need to see aid whether they are attending public or private college or university. The Florida Office of Student Financial Assistance (OSFA) is a fantastic resource for locating and researching local, statewide, and national opportunities for financial assistance in Florida such as state-funded grants and scholarships.
Unique scholarship opportunities are also available, especially for the diverse minority populations across the state. For example, the Minority Teacher Education Scholars (MTES). This program is a performance-based scholarship that serves African-American, Hispanic-American, Asian-American, and Native American students and it is administered by the Florida Fund for Minority Teachers, Inc. (FFMT). The William L. Boyd, IV, Florida Resident Access Grant Program provides tuition assistance to Florida undergraduate students attending an eligible private, non-profit Florida college or university.