Remaining Relevant: What Businesses Can Learn from the Areas’ Institutions of Higher Learning

Like any other business, long-range planning is key to guiding our area’s colleges and universities into and through the future. By examining external trends related to areas of influence such as demographics, the economy, the environment and energy, learning, politics and technology, a college can anticipate and respond more effectively to the communities it serves. 

View the strategic plans of any of Volusia County’s higher education institutions and one will note a commonality in the core values of each – a dedication to developing key community partnerships, instilling a global perspective in their students, and adapting to inevitable internal and external change. It’s how our area’s institutions have historically maintained their relevance and value to their communities and constituents, as well as what guides them toward futures measured by continuous improvement.

Take, for instance, the area’s oldest institution, Stetson University in DeLand, which since its founding 134 years ago has been growing and adapting its mission in pace with a onetime Central Florida frontier turned major regional economic hub.

Stetson has been a pioneer in business education since 1897 – longer than any other Florida higher educational institution. Students move beyond theory, into the practice of modern business – researching existing and emerging markets in the Americas, Europe and Asia.

Since being founded in 1900 as Florida’s first law school, Stetson has prepared students to become highly skilled, ethical lawyers and leaders. The school is ranked #1 in trial advocacy and #4 in legal writing education by U.S. News & World Report, and leads the nation in blending legal doctrine with practical training.

Additionally, Stetson was the first university in Florida to authorize an independent student newspaper, the first to admit women into its College of Law in 1908, and the first private, non-HBCU university in Florida to integrate in 1962.

In addition to using strategic planning as a tool for continuous improvement, the university in 2011 launched a yearlong community wide examination of its core values to determine if they were aligned with its institutional mission and vision. It focused on diversity, spiritual life, community engagement and ethics, to name just a few issues, and resulted in three updated values statements centered around fostering personal growth, global citizenship and intellectual development in Stetson’s students.

“Focusing on our core values, we have created a welcoming and inclusive university, where students can pursue a course of study knowing that faculty and administration are dedicated to their development and their future,” said President Wendy B. Libby. “We fully expect that our students will make great contributions to their communities and the world after they leave Stetson, and every year they have met that expectation.”

Just as sustainability in business is not always a smooth road, so is the journey toward excellence in higher education. On Volusia’s eastside, Bethune-Cookman University has held
tight to the vision of its founder, Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune,
despite some recent imbroglios along the way for the
113-year-old institution.

BCU recently realigned its strategic priorities as it sorts through internal setbacks the school’s interim president, Dr. Hubert L. Grimes, has suggested caused BCU to “fall short of
the spirit of excellence that Dr. Bethune so proudly brought to
this institution.”

“But today is a new day. And today marks a new start,” he notes in the university’s revised strategic plan. “Our challenge as an institution is to make this plan a living, breathing document to ensure that we become the university we want to be in 2018. To that end, the strategic plan is a starting point in an ongoing process of change, adaptation, and continuous improvement.”

BCU plays a unique historical and cultural role in Daytona Beach’s midtown area and the local economy. In its revised strategic plan, the university is striving to “further reinvent itself in a new and rapidly changing world,” and has committed to improving core processes, balancing costs and maximizing its academic resources.

Perhaps there is no better institution of higher learning where continuous improvement and technological advancement are more critical to remaining relevant and sustainable than at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. What started as a simple plan to train pilots and cash in on a booming post-World War I interest in flying has evolved into a worldwide mission in aviation and aerospace higher education that annually serves more than 30,000 students.

“Embry-Riddle is in the midst of one of the most significant transformations in our school’s 90-year history,” said Dr. P. Barry Butler, ERAU’s sixth president. “We are fast becoming an important national presence, not just in aviation and aerospace, but in the sphere of applied research and innovation. We have made significant investments in building infrastructure, laboratory equipment, our faculty and cutting-edge technology across all our colleges. Our culture is evolving to embrace the discovery of new knowledge.”

In addition to generating trailblazing research in aviation and aerospace engineering, ERAU has expanded its footprint into the fields of medical human factors, astronomy and space physics, autonomous vehicles, spaceflight operations and cybersecurity. Its College of Business has revised its
vision to focus on creating the next generation of global business leaders
and entrepreneurs.

At Daytona State College, the institution is celebrating 60 years of being the area’s first choice for workforce education and training. Over time, the college has evolved from a small campus into an academically superior multi-campus institution. Daytona State prides itself on its ability to provide students with affordable tuition, convenient and flexible course scheduling, and an expanded array of programs created with the recommendation and guidance of the local business community.

The college offers more than 100 certificate, associate and baccalaureate degree programs, with graduates serving in critical fields that include health care, emergency services, business, education, hospitality, engineering, technology and more. DSC also offers the Associate of Arts University Transfer degree, which provides students the first two years of a four-year bachelor’s degree, saving students and their families thousands of dollars in the process.

“Access and affordability are the first steps in serving our students,” said the college’s president, Dr. Tom LoBasso, “but just the first steps. Our mission is not complete until students are graduated and employed in good jobs, with employers who trust that a Daytona State graduate will start work having the technical and critical thinking skills necessary to be an outstanding employee. These efforts demand a dynamic relationship between local employers and the college, built on open communication and partnership in developing new programs, enriching curriculum, and providing students with work experience while still in college.”

As an open-door institution, Daytona State serves a diverse population. Adhering to its community college roots, the institution has evolved into a truly comprehensive college. Underserved and at-risk students may begin their studies in adult basic education, adult high school or the GED and matriculate into more advanced degree offerings, where they may also take advantage of a wide variety of academic support services.

Though Daytona State’s growth over the years has been dramatic, the college still holds true to its core value of provide affordable programs and open access for all who seek to improve their lives through education.