As the academic year comes to a close, many students find themselves looking toward new beginnings. High school seniors have chosen the schools where they will pursue their higher education, college underclassmen will solidify their course of action through school and graduating seniors soon will begin forging ahead in their careers as they head into the job market.
Many of these new beginnings are happening right here in Miami, a city some might be surprised to learn is a robust college town.
According to the Atlantic’s City Lab, Miami is the eighth-largest college town in the country with more than 380,000 students enrolled in local schools. That number likely will grow significantly in the coming years as universities such as Florida International University expand their facilities and the city’s population trends upward.
There’s a number of factors for the size of our college population. Miami-Dade County is the fourth-largest school district in the country with more than 350,000 students in K-12 programs. Many of those students end up attending local universities. In addition, many out-of-state and international students are drawn to Miami’s sunny climate and cultural offerings (and perhaps the academic programs as well).
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However, the size of our student population, unfortunately, does not speak to the quality of life for college students locally. Many find themselves at a disadvantage compared to students in other established college towns.
According to WalletHub’s Best and Worst College Towns in America survey, Miami ranks 146 out of all 280 cities analyzed and 35 out of the 62 large cities analyzed based on a combination of “academic, social and economic atmospheres,” frustratingly low rankings for a major international city. Moreover, not only does our city find itself falling behind other college towns nationally, we rank behind other Florida cities, including Tampa and Orlando.
The cost of attending school in Miami can be staggering. The city is home to both the second most expensive public university and the most expensive private university in Florida, based on tuition: FIU and University of Miami, respectively. Many local students are taking on unsustainable levels of debt to get a quality education, which can have a severe impact on quality of life for those living here.
For those who decide to take on the sky-high tuition rates, their academic and extracurricular lives leave much to be desired. Miami’s universities are primarily commuter schools, meaning campus life for many students is often relegated to their courses and little else. While there’s nothing inherently wrong with commuter schools, many students often feel disconnected from their institutions and they are less likely to develop extracurricular activities or strong social networks that improve the quality of their academic life and may also prove beneficial after college.
Moreover, there is a significant lack of opportunity for current students and graduates. While there are undoubtedly quality internships, fellowships and entry-level jobs in Miami, particularly for those who wish to break into the Latin American market, there are fewer opportunities available locally than in other large cities, leaving many either to look elsewhere or be held back in their careers.
This is not a condemnation of Miami’s higher-education institutions. Our colleges and universities are new compared to those found older college towns such as Boston. In the past few decades, they have undergone exponential growth both in their size and the quality of programs they offer.
But our local colleges and universities must not rest on their laurels and must continue to find ways to improve quality of life for students if they wish to attract the best and brightest students.
While it may be difficult for universities to lower tuition rates, they should strive tirelessly to improve their programs to ensure students are getting the most bang for their buck.
These institutions also need to look for ways to create a greater sense of community for commuters, and also work with local organizations and businesses to create more opportunities off-campus for current students and recent graduates.
But it is vital that students take the lead on these issues and push their colleges to action if they want these changes to take place. Local students have not been shy in pushing for change at their campuses in the past and they must continue to do so if they wish for the best education possible.
Ricardo Mor is operations and programs coordinator for the Miami Center for Architecture & Design.