Shifting Sands of Education

Education summit at USF looks at improving the availability and delivery of post-secondary degrees to young adults.


Florida Rep. Will Weatherford talks with one of the attendees at Friday's education summit at USF. Photos: Aimee Blodgett | USF News


By Peter E. Howard

USF News


TAMPA, Fla. (May 11, 2012) – State Rep. Will Weatherford looked out over the crowd at the Marshall Student Center – a group keenly involved in the educational landscape – and told them a seismic shift is taking shape in higher education learning.


Technology fits hand in glove with learning now, Weatherford said, with youngsters nowadays spending hours online. The goal is to get them to carve out time away from distractions like Facebook and plug into learning and engagement.


Online learning and online classrooms, he said, is the key to growing an educated community, a strong nucleus of young people who have earned post-secondary degrees and a pool of smart people attractive to top businesses or companies looking for new places to locate.


“The question is, is Florida going to lead or are we going to follow,” said Weatherford, a Republican from Wesley Chapel. “The question is, is the United States going to lead, or are we going to follow?”


Weatherford, the incoming Florida Speaker of the House, was the featured speaker of Florida Goal 2025 College Access & Success Summit presented by the Florida College Access Network. More than 125 people were at the morning session at the University of South Florida’s student center, including educators and business and community leaders.


Introduced by USF Provost Ralph Wilcox, Weatherford said he is committed to education, the only elixir “we have found that can bring people out of poverty” and improve society and the quality of life. He said Florida needs a new vision for improving education, and he added he is looking forward to the work of a new taskforce to reform higher education announced recently by Gov. Rick Scott.


Florida, he said, can develop a vision and deliver a strategy around education that will “create a pocket of prosperity right here at home.”


Right now in Florida about 36 percent of adults between the age of 25 and 64 hold at least a two-year post-secondary degree. Nationally, the number is about 38.3 percent, according to 2010 data.


The only way to reach an attainment rate of 60 percent, which is the goal for 2025, Weatherford said, is through online learning. But online learning, he said, won’t replace the traditional learning environment, only make the process more accessible and hopefully more affordable to more people.


In his introduction of Weatherford, Wilcox said education providers need to be more strategic in how the needs of society are met.


“Our higher education focus today … must be on building a talent supply chain for Florida’s future,” said Wilcox.


Friday’s all-day summit brought together leaders to explore options for improving post-secondary educational success for all students. Attendees learned about the current state of higher education in Florida, discussed college access success strategies and ways to better prepare students for post-secondary education.


Peter Howard can be reached at 813-974-9057.