The glossy brochure promoting Miami Dade Colleges School of Science begins with the expected burst of lofty language about teaching students to question, investigate and formulate conclusions about the natural world.
But directly under the Mission heading, the new pamphlet gets down to business, laying out the paycheck prospects for graduates. Biological Technician: $38,396. Horticulturist: $34,511. Environmental Technician: $40,227.
Thats what the students care about right now, Dean Heather Belmont said. Before, students always felt that when they graduated, they could get a job.
High unemployment and battered household finances have colleges working harder to tie their classroom offerings to job offers. From creating courses to accommodate a new industry to customizing a curriculum to a specific employers hiring criteria, schools are pushing to narrow the gap between academia and the real world.
Its a long-running trend that has accelerated during the recession and limp recovery, at a time when many employers refuse to hire candidates without the exact skills needed for a position.
How do you become marketable with a degree in management? asked Robert Sellani, an associate professor of operations management and accounting at Nova Southeastern University in Davie. Its not easy.
Sellani presides over NSUs new supply-chain masters program, which is designed to train students on the nuts-and-bolts of moving goods for companies. He said the program came in part from looking around at businesses poised for growth in South Florida, despite the wobbly economy.
Its very obvious with the deep dredging of the Port of Miami, more cargo is going to be ready to move north, Sellani said of the effort to prepare Miami docks for ships serving a deeper Panama Canal, which is also being dredged. With the cargo industry already growing, Sellani said supply management looked ripe for funneling students into jobs at some of South Floridas top employers.
Weve had interest from City Furniture. Weve had interest from Office Depot, he said. Weve had interest from Royal Caribbean.
No field is too narrow. The University of Miami now offers a post-graduate course on real estate development, and Florida International University is rolling out a course of study on medical paperwork.
Sometimes, the push for marketability can go too far. NSU had hoped to focus its supply-chain offerings even more with a masters in logistics. But Sellani said the school dropped that for lack of demand.
The shifting winds of the economy can be problematic, too. When gambling was Topic A last year in Tallahassee, Miami-Dade College administrators reached out to would-be casino developers in Miami about funding a training program for casino workers. Those talks were put on hold after a gambling bill died in the Legislature earlier in the year, said Provost Rolando Montoya.
Designing courses directly tied to the private sector needs also touches on a sensitive topic in Florida. Gov. Rick Scott raised the ire of some in academia last fall when he said in a radio interview that Florida doesnt need a lot more anthropologists in the state.
I want to spend our dollars giving people science, technology, engineering, math degrees, he continued. So when they get out of school, they can get a job."