Making The Grade

BOCA RATON BECOMES A REGIONAL CENTER FOR HIGHER EDUCATION

 Students graduating from high school in Boca Raton during the 1970s or ‘80s might not have considered staying in the city to earn their college degrees. But today they stop and think before leaving, lured by impressive academic options in their own back yard.

Boca Raton is home to three colleges. Florida Atlantic University is Boca Raton’s answer to students wanting a school that offers all the bells and whistles—from a broad list of degree options to competitive sports teams and the “big” university environment. Palm Beach Community College, with a campus on the grounds of FAC, is a springboard to the larger universities, offering associate’s degree programs. The school also boasts a roster of vocational programs that allow people direct access to the workforce. Lynn University, on the other hand, offers those who want four-year undergraduate or graduate degrees but prefer the intimacy of a private college setting.

FAU: THE MIGHT OF THE LOCAL POST-SECONDARY SYSTEM

In 40 years, FAU has grown from a small, upper-division university in Boca Raton serving hundreds of students to an institution with more than 24,000 students on seven campuses, the largest in Boca Raton. One of Florida’s 11 public universities, FAU offers about 150 programs from the undergraduate to the doctoral level through the colleges of architecture, urban and public affairs, arts and letters, business, education, engineering, nursing, science and an honors college.

In addition to its core degree offerings, FAU promotes lifelong learning in the community. Students take classes through its Open University and Continuing Education (OUCE) seminars and workshops. FAU maintains its Lifelong Learning Society (LLS). the largest organization of its kind in the country, serving 22,000 people older than 60 years, who take noncredit personal enrichment courses taught by FAU faculty.

“FAU is now clearly established as the public university for this part of southeast Florida. Our service region stretches roughly 150 miles along the coast from Broward County to the Brevard County line,” says Michael Armstrong, FAU associate provost.

FAU has had consistent growth, adding 1,000 to 2,000 students each year; some experts predict that the university will have 47,000 students by 2010.

FAU’s research initiatives are growing dramatically, Armstrong says. In March2003, university officials announced a $10 million grant to develop a world-class research center called the Center of Excellence in Biomedical and Marine Biotechnology, which will foster the university’s growth in biomedical sciences and in a program to harvest pharmaceuticals from the ocean. Other examples of FAU’s devotion to the fields of science and technology are the Center for Complex Systems and Brain Sciences, the Florida Center for Electronic Communication and the Institute for Ocean Systems Engineering.

Perhaps FAU’s most newsworthy event of late was the appointment of Florida’s former lieutenant governor Frank Brogan as the university’s fifth president.

Brogan earned a master’s degree in education in administration/supervision from FAU in 1981. His long history in education includes his time as president (and founding member) of the Education Leaders Council. He is a former Florida Commissioner of Education and was superintendent of schools in Martin County, as well as an administrator and teacher in secondary education.

Brogan was on track to run either for governor or for the U.S. Senate, and also was being courted by the University of Florida as well as Florida State University for a presidential position. He says he never considered the post until FAU came knocking at his door.

“Suddenly, it started to make sense for me, and, before you know it, I was looking at it as the chance of a lifetime,” he says. ‘Within a matter of weeks, I had gone from a person not even considering being university president to a person who is university president.”

Brogan says his greatest accomplishments during his quarter-century in education have been in raising educational standards and creating a system of accountability in the state. In secondary education, grades K-12. Brogan spearheaded the Sunshine State Standards— academic standards that raised the bar for Florida schools—as well as the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test, or FCAT, which serves to assess schools’ teaching performance. He also led the effort to raise the grade point average necessary for students to graduate from high school from a 1.5 to a 2.0.

Brogan sees a similar path in postsecondary education. He plans to study how well students are prepared to “compete” when they enter FAU, and he wants to promote programs that will integrate FAU with area schools to raise secondary students’ competitiveness. He plans to analyze FAU’S effectiveness at helping students who start at the university to finish their educations, and he wants to measure the quality of students graduating from FAU.

“At the end of the day, we have one important mission: to make sure that we are educating students to compete at the highest level possible,” he says.

Brogan says what makes a world-class institution is world-class activities. “The question is do we have the courage to identify our centers of excellence and then begin to prioritize our spending and human resources in those areas...”

Singling out a few areas might be politically sensitive, but Brogan says one of his strengths is getting divergent groups to come to the table and work together toward a common end.

As for politics. Brogan says FAU is a long-term commitment. “I’ve put aside any thought of being governor four years from now or senator to be this university’s president,” he says.

PALM BEACH COMMUNITY COLLEGE: MEETING THE COMMUNITY’S NEEDS

Palm Beach Community College changed its name in 1998 from Palm Beach Junior College, signifying the college’s transition from primarily offering courses for the first two years of the baccalaureate degree to an institution offering much more. PBCC fills a vital educational need in the~~ community. It’s an option for students who have test scores or grade point averages lower than those needed to get into the state universities. (To get into PBCC, they only need to be high school graduates or have general education developments, or GEDs.) PBCC then puts them on track to earn their associate’s degrees, guaranteeing them junior status at four-year universities such as FAU.

The community college also is a less expensive option. Whereas FAU charges $92.88 per credit hour for undergraduate courses, PBCC charges $51. Lynn University charges a flat fee, beginning at $22,000 a year for tuition.

And, according to PBCC President Dennis P. Gallon, class sizes—which average 21 students at PBCC—are smaller than at FAU. Yet he insists the quality of education for associate degree courses is the same. “You will be taught by individuals with professional degrees, including the master’s degrees.” he says. ~ get data back from the 11 universities from the state of Florida on the performance of our graduates who attend those institutions, and, without a doubt, the academic track record is that our students are doing as well as—if not better—than those students who began their academic careers in those universities. So, we feel very good about the quality of PBCC.”

PBCC serves about 49,000 students throughout the county. About half of those take classes at the central campus in Lake Worth, while about 45 percent go to either the Boca Raton or Eissey campus in Palm Beach Gardens. The rest attend the Belle Glade campus.

The Boca Raton campus has a strong working relationship with neighboring FAU. Some students are dually enrolled, and the schools share intramural activities and the same library, Gallon says.

“PBCC is surrounded by an array of public and private, postsecondary institutions,” Gallon says. “We are a seeder institution for all of those universities.”

PBCC has articulation agreements with state and private institutions, meaning students graduating with associate’s degrees from PBCC are guaranteed junior status at FAU and other schools.

The Boca Raton campus focuses on liberal arts classes for students taking the first two years of baccalaureate degrees. The Lake Worth and Palm Beach Gardens campuses offer liberal arts courses, as well as vocational courses, including radiology technology, respiratory therapy, nursing, dental assisting and dental technology.

Boca Raton students can get their liberal arts courses or some introductory classes for vocational courses, then transfer to the other campuses to complete their educations.

During the past decade, PBCC has changed dramatically in terms of the kinds of courses it offers. The community college now offers the 45 postsecondary adult vocational courses that used to be offered by the school district. “~è are the largest provider of allied health professionals of any institution in the county,” he says. “We have also initiated a very strong comprehensive honors curriculum. Our goal there is to be sure that those students who are academically gifted would be able to come to PBCC and would be challenged with a very rigorous curriculum.”

PBCC also offers a fire science program and police academy: it’s the only local training provider of professionals in those two areas, he says.

PBCC will continue to be on the lookout for new ways to serve the community’s educational needs. Recent focuses for the college have been on its new institute of teacher education, which helps address the shortage of postsecondary schoolteachers in Palm Beach County. There are weekend nursing courses and an institute devoted to educating people who work in childcare services to train people caring for children to be more than “baby sitters,” Gallon says.

At the Boca Raton campus, construction of a $5 million humanities building is expected to be finished by March 2004, and the college is renovating the gymnasium, forming a two-story classroom building.

 LYNN UNIVERSITY: CATERING TO THE INDIVIDUAL

Donald E. Ross saw the potential of Lynn University in 1971 when it was Marymount College. a small two-year women’s college, says Anthony J. Casale, vice president and executive assistant to the president at Lynn University.-

Marymount evolved into a co-educational institution—then a four-year liberal arts school—and, today, Lynn University offers undergraduate and graduate degrees, including a Ph.D. program.

With 2,100 undergraduate, graduate and other students involved in areas such as “professional and career education,” Lynn, Casale says, has never lost its focus and mission to educate “the individual.” This is a tall task, especially given Lynn’s diversity. A quarter of Lynn’s students are from outside the United States.

“This is a campus where literally everyone knows everyone else,” he says.

One example of the close-knit environment is the dining hail, Casale says. “I know it sounds trite, but if you walk into the Lynn University dining hall for breakfast, lunch or dinner, in one room you’ll find undergraduate and graduate students, full- and part-time students, faculty members of every discipline, staff people, administrators, the housekeeping staff and president of the university—all having lunch in the same place.” Casale says. “There is no private faculty dining room.”

Casale says another story that illustrates Lynn’s commitment to personalized, individual attention occurred during a recent open house for families. One woman approached Casale and told him how amazed she was after she walked up to a professor arid mentioned only her name. The professor knew her son’s name and what courses he was taking.

Lynn, Boca Raton’s only private university, offers popular degrees. such as those in business management and marketing, and more distinctive programs, like hospitality and aviation. Lynn was the first in the country to add a master’s of science degree in criminal justice administration, with a specialization in technical intelligence operations. Lynn began offering a program in emergency management preparedness prior to Sept. 11.

Lynn is home to the college of International Communications, headed by Dean Irving R. Levine, former “NBC News” chief economics correspondent.

It also houses the Academic Center for Achievement, a program designed to help students with learning disabilities earn post-secondary degrees. The university is expanding the concept of helping disabled students to addressing personal and academic challenges of a broad range of students so they have better chances of graduating with postsecondary degrees.

Lynn acquired what it now calls the Conservatory of Music in 1999 from the Harid Conservatory, adding a new dimension to the university as a center for studying music performance. It also gives non-music undergraduates new elective options in music appreciation and music management.

Lynn will continue to develop the remainder of its proposed master plan for the campus, including adding more parking and dorm rooms. The university also has plans to upgrade and develop campus amenities, including the student services building. Last year. the school added a modern five-story residence hall.

Casale says people often are misled to believe private universities can be highly expensive. “If you’re in need of financial assistance and you make application for it, oftentimes, people are surprised as to how competitive we can become. In addition to the usual financial aid, we commit about $9 million a year in institutional aid,” he says.

  Source: Boca Raton Chamber of Commerce, BOCA RATON ANNUAL 2003-2004

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