By JAKE FRASIER
May 17, 2013
As a student in the Higher Education program at Florida State, one aspect of our curriculum is to take part in what is called Practicum. This is a course that occurs just after the spring semester ends, and involves learning more about various types of institutions. At the beginning of the course, our cohort was divided into various topical groups (decided by us) which we would be focusing our course project on. The group that I was a part of looked at institutional communication strategies. As part of the course, we visited a variety of schools in the area. This location changes from year to year, and this year we went to Orlando, FL.
Prior to departing for Orlando, we found out we would be visiting four campuses during our two day trip. These campuses were Valencia College (community college, left photo), University of Central Florida (large public, second to left photo), Full Sail University (for profit institution, second to right photo), and Rollins College (small private liberal arts, right photo). The following are my reflections from these campus visits!
1) Valencia College (East Campus)
Valencia College was the first school that we visited. It's a community college that has about 35,000 students across it's various campuses, however, we only visited theEast Campus location. We met with several Student Affairs professionals from the school and got a presentation on their history and other facts about the university. What stood out to me most was the Valencia's commitment to not simply ensuring that students succeed, but that they thrive. Valencia had a very student focused feel and had a commitment to making sure that students found their passion.
They have a unique program at Valencia called the LifeMap which is a program that assists students in envisioning their future at Valencia and beyond. It provides some helpful academic guidelines and dates, but also contains some activities to engage students in reflecting on their goals and objectives for the future. This LifeMap program was heavily marketed throughout their campus and utilized previous students' stories to help provide a concrete example to current students of how their predecessors had become successful as a result of their time at Valencia. I was really impressed with the work Valencia was doing to engage students early and how they adapted to their unique student populations (e.g. first generation, first time in college, adult learners, veterans etc.).
My takeaway from visiting Valencai was realizing just how important community colleges are within American Higher Education. They offer a way for students who may not be able to be admitted to more traditional degree granting institutions immediately after high school to continue their education. Furthermore, in the state of Florida, their exists a program where any student who completes their time at a community college in the state has automatic admittance to larger state institutions (e.g. University of Central Florida). In this sense, students who are either not able or are not yet ready to make the leap to four year institutions are able to continue their education while preparing for this leap.
2) University of Central Florida
The second trip of the day was to University of Central Florida. Located just 15 minutes away from Valencia College, UCF is the nation's second largest public institution with an enrollment of around 60,000 students. One of the first things I noticed when stepping onto UCF's campus was the advertising of their recent 50 year celebration. Similar to my undergraduate institution University of Central Florida recently celebrated 50 years as an institution. What I found most striking, however, was just how massive UCF was when compared to my undergrad (CNU). I was curious how the institution had grown so rapidly and how the Office of Student Affairs was able to handle such an increase in enrollment. From what I learned on the trip, much of the increase in enrollment was the direct connect program in Florida, where students who achieve certain credentials in community college are automatically admitted to larger state institutions.
Our first meeting of the trip was with the VPSA as well as a few other SSAOs. What we found out early on was that UCF has a very unique office structure for student success. As opposed to having an Office of Student Affairs, they had what is called "Student Development and Enrollment Services (SDES)" [Org Chart]. After viewing the organizational chart, our cohort had quite a few questions regarding the placement of departments under certain umbrellas. Something that I found especially fascinating was that as a result of this alternative organizational structure, there is no Dean of Students at UCF. Thinking about all that our Dean of Students does at Florida State made me wonder how UCF handled similar situations.
My takeaways from UCF were quite different from Valencia. While Valencia impressed me with their LifeMap and engagement efforts, UCF left me wanting more. I was curious for more information on how the institution was planning on handling it's rapid growth and providing resources to its student body. Furthermore, I had hoped to hear more about why specifically they chose to go with the SDES model as opposed to more traditional layout.
3) Full Sail University
Our second day of Practicum started bright and early with a visit to Full Sail University. This was one of the trips I was looking most forward to, since I had little to no information about what it was. Full Sail is a for-profit institution with an average cost of attendance of anywhere between $60,000 and $80,000 (per our tour guides). Unlike our visits to Valencia and UCF, Full Sail did not offer any specialized meetings with student service professionals, but instead took our group on the typical two hour campus tour. While I received limited information about Student Affairs and how it related to the university, their campus facilities and degree offerings for students were impressive. One interesting fact that I learned about Full Sail was that it's programs were primarily accelerated, meaning that students graduate sooner than four years. Additionally, they admit students on a monthly basis, as well as confer degrees (graduation) monthly.
Overall I was incredibly impressed with the campus as a whole, but similar to UCF I was left wanting more. Particularly, I was eager for more specific information on how the institution supported student success...especially in this rather unique educational environment.
4) Rollins College
Our second visit on day two and the last visit of our Practicum trip was to Rollins College. Rollins is a private, liberal-arts school with about 1,800 students. As soon as we arrived I campus, I was immediately reminded of my undergraduate institution's campus. Rollins college was founded in 1885 and since then has served to educate students to become global citizens and leaders. Like UCF and Valencia, Rollins college gave us a presentation from the VPSA and other SSAOs regarding their mission, vision, and purpose. After our initial presentation, our individual topical groups (my group being Institutional Communication Strategy) had smaller break-out sessions with professionals dealing with our issues. My group met with Tom Hope, the Assistant VP of Marketing and Communications at Rollins. Tom had created a fantastic presentation and really gave us a vast array of information and perspective from which to pull from. We ended our visit with a tour of the gorgeous campus.
My takeaways from Rollins were realizing how much I missed being at a smaller institution. It was great hearing about the intimate relationships faculty, staff, and students had. I was, however, still wondering what some of the significant differences between public and private institutions were.
My final thoughts...
All in all I was very pleased with our cohort's visit to Orlando. Each institution we visited was incredibly different from one another, as well as from Florida State. This experience offered a great way to gain perspective on just how varied institutions of higher education can be. In visiting the various campuses and speaking with student affairs professionals, I also gained a great about of insight into some types of institutions I could see myself working at post-graduation. Prior to this experience, I was strictly black and white with my future career goals...work at a traditional four-year public institution or not. Now, however, I can see the value in community colleges, private colleges, and even for-profit institutions.
Particular to my group's chosen topic (Institutional Communication Strategies) it was interesting to note the various methods of communication for each institution. Communication strategies and methods varied drastically depending on what institution we looked at. This could be due to the lack of a specified communication official within student affairs (Rollins was the only institution we met specifically with someone involved with communication and marketing) or to funding or support of such initiatives.
As I begin my second and final year of graduate work at Florida State and proceed into the job search, the experience of visiting these various institutions will be invaluable as I look towards my next steps.