Guest Column
Florida is No. 1 in higher ed, and here’s why | Column
Here are the keys to the state’s success, writes the chairperson of the Board of Governors.
University of South Florida undergraduates gather at USF's Yuengling Center in Tampa for a commencement ceremony.
University of South Florida undergraduates gather at USF's Yuengling Center in Tampa for a commencement ceremony.
Published May 17

For the seventh year in a row, U.S. News & World Report has ranked Florida the No. 1 state for higher education. Furthermore, the College Board reports that undergraduate tuition in Florida is now the lowest in the country. The state’s continued investment in higher education has catalyzed the State University System’s success. Florida’s strategy centers on access, student performance and outcomes, industry partnerships, high-performing faculty and research innovation. Our strategy is working.

Brian Lamb
Brian Lamb [ Provided ]

Admissions are up, contrary to national trends, and students graduate at a faster pace. Florida State University recently announced a record high 99% retention rate, indicating their national leadership in student success. Our four-year grad rates have increased significantly, up to 61%, in the last five years. Access continues to be a priority. Forty-five percent of all bachelor’s degrees awarded in 2021-22 went to students identifying as African American or Hispanic/Latino. Students are also leaving with less debt. An astounding 77% of resident undergrads had no loans during the 2021-22 academic year.

The support of the governor, Legislature and university leadership is pivotal to drive these outcomes. It is a differentiator. It is working in Florida, but we can always do more.

Florida’s public universities create a robust talent pipeline to meet the state’s workforce needs. For example, by 2028, the University of South Florida College of Nursing will graduate more than 750 nurses yearly, a three-fold increase over the next five years. Additionally, enrollment in the State University System’s R.N. programs has risen by 23% in the last five years. Almost 59% of our degrees awarded are in STEM fields. The business community spoke; we listened.

Our institutions have actively partnered with their local industry leaders to increase collaboration, provide student internships, attract out-of-state businesses, and assist the growth of existing businesses. Florida Gulf Coast University’s undergrad entrepreneurship program has emerged as the No. 1 program in Florida, ranking 15th in the nation, according to The Princeton Review. Investing in student success on the front end is critical to retaining our top talent in the state. It’s working, but there is more to be done.

Florida has long been a leader in online education, prioritizing high-quality online programs offered in various modalities designed to meet the students where they learn best. Four of our universities, the University of Florida, the University of Central Florida, the University of North Florida and the University of West Florida, rank in the Top 50, with UF’s online degree program ranked No. 1.

Florida is home to almost 19,000 of the best and brightest faculty. National recognitions for our world-class faculty are on the rise, with National Academy memberships held by our faculty increasing by 24% in the last four years. These top-tier research faculty bring considerable grant funding, increase Florida’s production of licenses and patents, fuel commercialization, drive startups and help create a more resilient economy. We have aligned research portfolios to harness regional assets and tackle local, state, national and international issues. For example, UF’s faculty surpassed $1 billion in research spending in 2022, developing disease treatments, new agricultural products, engineering solutions and countless other advancements. The State University System’s total R&D expenditures are up to $2.56 billion — an incredible 11% year-over-year increase, representing a $7 billion economic impact to the state.

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The State University System recognizes its responsibility to Florida’s citizens, faculty and students. We think outside the box and do things differently to yield the outcomes and returns our students deserve. For the better half of a decade, we have excelled at turning obsolete business models on their head. The current rankings are the fruit of that labor.

Higher education works in Florida, but there is more work to do.

Brian Lamb is chairperson of the Board of Governors, which oversees the State University System of Florida. He is also the managing director and segment head for Middle Market Banking & Specialized Industries (MMBSI) covering the Northeast for JPMorgan Chase Commercial Banking.