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- by  Alejandro Sanchez
In an ever-changing professional landscape, higher ed institutions are constantly searching for ways to provide students with market-driven skills. From partnerships and community involvement to the use of state-of-the-art tools, colleges and universities understand that adaptability is the key to embracing change. Higher ed leaders shared with Invest: how they envision the future of the sector and their strategies to remain relevant.

Jeffrey Senese, President, Saint Leo University

The key for the future will be to scale and build partnerships. We’re going to niche our programs while building programs with other universities that have different program offerings. You can’t be all things for all people. The industry is shifting and the economic model is different. We have implemented programs that are taught and advised by Spanish speakers. We’re meeting with our students in South America to build our market presence on the continent. Education remains an important aspect of life and provides a great range of opportunities that offer a great return.

Ken Atwater, President, Hillsborough Community College

The landscape is ever-changing, so my vision for HCC is only a three-year outlook. Looking back just a few years, who would have thought we would be doing what we are doing now? The trick to managing change is being flexible and adaptable. Change is a way of life and it is a reason why I work in community colleges. We are recognized for being nimble and for our ability to respond very quickly to industry and community needs. Of course we have long-range goals and strategic plans, but a three-year look is where we position our aligned objectives. 

To use a broad industry comparison, look at sales. Three years ago, many businesses would think it impossible to conduct sales online at the rate the pandemic accelerated. There are rapid change agents at play now and I want the college to successfully operate at that pace. We also have to be aware of the market and the data-driving economic trends and be responsive as demands change.

Patricia Okker, President, New College of Florida

The future of higher education will increasingly rely on stronger partnerships with the communities we serve. Thankfully, gone are the days when a college or university was seen as separate from our communities. These partnerships are a source of tremendous strength, as we share different expertise and work together to solve big challenges. 

The future of higher education must also include more diverse leadership. I am the first woman to serve as president of New College, which was founded in 1960. All colleges and universities must work together to ensure leadership pathways for people of all backgrounds and experiences.

Angela Garcia Falconetti, President, Polk State College

As universities continue to focus on research, our state colleges will continue to play a critical role in career-specific baccalaureate and workforce education. At Polk State, we have a goal to expand with a facility in Haines City-Davenport, which is the fastest-growing area of the county. That includes 3,800 enrolled 12th graders, representing 39% of all high-school seniors in Polk County. It includes over 80,000 residents whose highest educational attainment is a high-school diploma and some college but no degree. The area is expected to have 16,805 jobs over the next decade. This area is projected to need an additional 41,000 members of the workforce by 2030, so we have to respond to those education and training needs.  

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