ST. LEO — Nestled in the sleepy rolling hills of east Pasco, Saint Leo University may be small in size, but it continues to grow rapidly as a force in adult higher education with its satellite education centers cropping up across the country.
The latest evidence of that is a new partnership announced last week between the university and Sykes Enterprises for an education center at the Tampa company's huge contact center in Lakeland. Classes could begin as early as this fall at the Sykes center at 1044 Griffin Road, geared toward offering higher education not only to the hundreds of Sykes workers, but also to the broader Lakeland community.
"It's certainly going to be an added perk for our employees in Lakeland," said Andrea Thomas, spokeswoman for Sykes, a company that provides call center services for cellphone companies, credit card companies, computer manufacturers and more. "It's just not something you see for employees to have the opportunity to pursue their educational goals in the workplace."
The deal marks Saint Leo University's first satellite campus at a corporate facility. But it's a logical next step for the university, which has established numerous satellite learning centers at community colleges and military facilities around the country, providing easier access for adults seeking higher education, according to Edward Dadez, the school's vice president of continuing education and student services.
Dadez said the university conducts a thorough analysis of the market, and in discussions with Sykes officials, it became apparent that there was an opportunity there. Sykes officials showed interest in having the university take root in its center as another tool to retain employees, Dadez said.
"We have it down to the science," Dadez said of launching new sites.
And Saint Leo University's growth in recent years may be an indication of that. In the past six years, the university has opened 15 education centers nationally, including three locally through a partnership with Pasco-Hernando Community College at its campuses in New Port Richey, Spring Hill and Brooksville.
"We hope to partner with them at their Wesley Chapel site in the future as well," Dadez said.
The majority of Saint Leo's satellite education centers are at military installations, which the university began providing in the 1970s, making it a pioneer in offering higher education to military personnel, Dadez said. The university has 33 education centers in Florida, including at MacDill Air Force Base, and six other states: Georgia, Virginia, South Carolina, Mississippi, Texas and California.
That's in addition to the main university campus on State Road 52 in the tiny town of St. Leo, where the Catholic school has operated since 1889. The university has an on-campus enrollment of 4,000, with a liberal arts curriculum, but it also specializes in offering degrees at its satellite locations and online, Dadez said. Add in the satellite campuses and online students, and Saint Leo's total enrollment tops 16,000.
"It's great for Pasco County to know that Saint Leo is an institution much bigger than what they perceive it to be when they drive down State Road 52," he said.
The new campus at the Sykes facility in Lakeland awaits regulatory approval by the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. The university plans to offer associate's degrees in liberal arts, business administration and criminal justice, as well as bachelor's degrees in business administration, psychology, criminal justice and health care administration.
When the Saint Leo partnership was announced Monday, Sykes president and chief executive officer Chuck Sykes told employees and guests what his own successful father used to say: Education is important because it can never be taken away from a person, even if he or she falls on hard times.
"This is an opportunity," Sykes said, "to really grab hold of life skills."