This is spring commencement season for tens of thousands of students from the University of South Florida and other universities across our state. I am confident that the future is bright for these graduates, not only due to the unique obstacles they’ve had to overcome amid a pandemic, but also because our faculty, staff and community partners are increasingly focused on preparing them to successfully enter their careers. This important part of the university’s mission has become even more clear with Florida’s recent growth, and we must be ready to rise to this challenge if we want our communities to flourish long term.
According to the U.S. Census, Florida ranks No. 1 in the nation in total net migration, which measures the difference between the number of people moving in and the number of people moving out of a state. From July 2021 to July 2022, our state gained 444,500 people, compared to the previous year’s gain of 185,000.
The population growth in the Tampa Bay region is documented in the 2023 State of the Region Report produced by the Tampa Bay Partnership. Our region ranked No. 1 for net population migration when compared with 19 peer communities around the country. As the report explains, net migration is generally an indicator of the region’s quality of life and economic opportunity.
As our region and state continue to attract new residents, businesses are relocating or expanding to take advantage. When the Tampa Bay Economic Development Council is recruiting a new company to move or expand its presence in our region, one of the first questions employers ask is about USF and other universities nearby. They want to know if our institutions of higher learning can meet their needs by producing high-quality graduates with the skills to be job-ready on day one. Some, such as tech company Rapid7, have cited the promising funnel of talent from colleges and universities as a key reason for coming here. Others, including Tampa-based cybersecurity company ReliaQuest, have created a lab to give USF students hands-on experiences that prepare them for their careers.
Whether it’s cybersecurity, nursing, hospitality or a range of other fields, USF and our peer institutions are aligning resources to fill workforce gaps in high-demand fields. We make it a point to have advisory boards in our colleges and departments that are composed of CEOs and other industry professionals whose expertise is vital to ensuring our universities are providing the current knowledge and skills expected of our graduates. The counsel these experts share plays an important role as our faculty develop new programs and enhance existing ones.
In addition, we are forging stronger ties with industry partners to help students, both through classroom instruction and experiential learning opportunities. For example, student enrollment in hospitality courses offered through USF’s School of Hospitality and Tourism Management has increased more than 200% since expanding programming just two semesters ago.
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That growth stems from new partnerships with McKibbon Hospitality, Aramark and Mainsail Lodging and Development. Among just those three corporations, hospitality students have opportunities to shadow and intern at three- to five-star hotels and at USF’s on-campus dining locations. The program also provides employment to 130 graduate students through internships.
Partnerships also are a critical part of USF’s commitment to addressing the nursing shortage crisis across our region and state. The College of Nursing partners with Tampa General Hospital, Moffitt Cancer Center and HCA Florida in Tampa, Sarasota Memorial Hospital and PAM Health in Sarasota, and Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg to support students through scholarships and job opportunities with each organization.
These are just a few examples of USF’s heightened commitment to enhancing the talent pipeline, a commitment that is shared throughout Florida’s higher education community. It’s the responsibility of our universities to continue to find new and creative ways to ensure that our graduates are well prepared to help our region and state continue to grow and thrive.
Rhea Law is the president of the University of South Florida.