Pasco Hernando Community College is poised to become a big man on campus by changing its name, expanding its mission and moving into new digs in Wesley Chapel. The $45 million Porter Campus at Wiregrass Ranch is scheduled to be completed this month and open to students in January while the college rebrands itself as Pasco Hernando State College and begins offering four-year degrees in applied sciences and nursing.
The state investment is welcome as the college expands post-secondary opportunities in a high-growth, but under-served region of Pasco County. Three years ago, the college reported more than 1,800 students from Lutz, Land O'Lakes, Wesley Chapel and Zephyrhills attended PHCC's other campuses.
The health care curriculum is particularly noteworthy. The Florida Center for Nursing projects a statewide shortage of 56,000 registered nurses by 2025, an eightfold increase over current estimates triggered by nursing retirements, growing health care demands from an aging population and an influx of new patients from the federal Affordable Health Care Act. Estimates from the state nursing center also reveal the nursing workforce in Pasco and Hernando counties currently is several hundred people short of filling demand.
The college is seeking to help fill that void. Its Porter campus features, as its centerpiece, an eight-story building with three decks of parking, a mezzanine and four floors of classrooms and science, computer and health labs. Enrollment capacity will be 2,400 students initially, but the 60-acre site includes room for expansion and the location is expected to become the busiest of the college's five campuses.
Future challenges likely will be financial. Despite an appropriations boost from the Legislature earlier this year, state funding for the 28 state colleges, on a per-student basis, is 20 percent lower now than it was seven years ago.
At the same time, enrollment is up 22 percent with the colleges adding the equivalent of 64,500 full-time students statewide.
The Legislature was wise to try to reverse the trend in 2013, but more work remains. Short-changing investments in public education is counterproductive particularly in the state college system where 93 percent of the graduates remain in Florida to work and contribute to the economy.