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Graduates from Polk County Institutions of Higher Education Enhance Talent Pipeline

July 1, 2024 News, Talent Pipeline

Polk County’s seven colleges and universities recently graduated a combined 2,743 students. The talent pipeline is full of new engineers, health-care professionals, computer scientists and more. 

Many of the graduates will remain in Polk County to secure jobs, some at businesses where they have completed internships. Many have graduated with STEM-related degrees in science, technology, engineering and math. 

In addition, drawing from regional universities, local businesses have access to nearly 95,000 newly degreed graduates each year. Talent remains one of the leading competitiveness issues expanding and relocating companies evaluate during their decision making process.

Dana Davis, Chief Information Officer at Southeastern University, said “the job opportunity landscape for our graduates in Polk County is quite promising. Reflecting a robust local economy and a growing demand for skilled professionals across various sectors,” she said. “The county’s growth in healthcare, education, technology, sports and community services ensures that our graduates are well-positioned to find fulfilling and impactful careers right here in the local community. Our institution’s strong ties with local employers and community organizations further enhance job placement and career development opportunities for our graduates. “ 

Following is a breakdown of each institution’s graduates. 

Florida Polytechnic University

Florida Polytechnic University is the only state university focused solely on STEM degrees. According to Lydia Guzman, director of communications, 183 undergraduate students and 13 graduate students earned degrees. 

Computer science is one of its most popular degree programs, she said. 

Students at Florida Poly studying in the IST (Innovation, Science, & Technology) building

President Randy Avent, who is retiring in July 2024 after spending 10 years building the university from the ground up, said: “Florida Poly is committed to driving economic growth in Polk County and the region through our core STEM degrees, research and in-demand graduates. We are early in the process of being a catalyst for the high-tech sector and helping to grow the high-skill, high-paying jobs that the U.S. economy is built on. By attracting industry and fostering an environment of technological advancement, we are helping to transform Polk County into a hub of economic vitality and opportunity.” 

Florida Southern College

Florida Southern’s largest graduating class saw 470 students earn undergraduate degrees and 81 earn graduate degrees. The graduates included: 

  • 279 from the School of Arts and Sciences. 
  • 105 from the Barney Barnett School of Business and Free Enterprise. 
  • 72 from the Ann Blanton Edwards School of Nursing and Health Sciences. 
  • 14 from the School of Education. 

Similar to Avent at Florida Polytechnic, this was college President Anne Kerr’s final commencement ceremony. Kerr, who served as president for 20 years, announced her retirement in early 2024. Jeremy Martin is to be her replacement, beginning in August. 

Keiser University

Jeff LaLiberte, associate vice chancellor of Media and Public Relations, said 128 students at the Lakeland campus graduated and 1,711 graduated at all Keiser University properties. 

“We anticipate approximately 65% of those 1,711 are in STEM programs, a majority of which come from fields related to healthcare and life sciences,” he said. “Healthcare and IT-related majors are among our most popular.” 

About 85% of Keiser graduates stay in Florida, helping bolster the state’s talent pipeline. 

“Keiser University has a significant impact on the economy in Polk County. Particularly because the majority of our graduates remain in Polk County to live, work and raise families,” said Lakeland Campus President Karen Steverson.  “Our graduates are a vital part of the growing healthcare community in Polk County. Many of them begin new careers at one of the excellent medical facilities in the area.” 

Keiser appeals to adults in Polk because of it’s flexibility. It “allows them to learn in place while continuing their career and raising their families.”  

Polk State College

At Polk State College, 721 undergraduates earned degrees, said Madison Fantozzi, associate vice president of communications. Of those, 146 — 20% — graduated with degrees in STEM fields, including health sciences.  

Students have options at the college: 

  • Those who earn an Associate in Arts degree can enroll in STEM programs to pursue a bachelor’s degree. Programs include Biomedical Sciences, Chemical Engineering, Civil Engineering, Computer and Information Science, Computer Engineering, Computer Software Engineering, Information Technology and Mechanical Engineering. 
  • Those who graduate with an Associate in Science degree can pursue bachelor’s degrees in Computer Systems and Business Analysis, Engineering Technology and Network Systems Engineering Technology. 
  • There are options for those seeking careers in nursing or health sciences – popular fields as workforce demands continue to increase. They can choose between Cardiovascular Technology, Diagnostic Medical Sonography, Emergency Medical Services, Occupational Therapy Assistant, Physical Therapist Assistant, or Radiography and Respiratory Care.  

“Approximately 70% of Polk State students remain in Polk County after graduation to work or continue their education. With programs tailored to meet local workforce needs, job prospects are high for graduates of Polk State, which boasts some of the highest employment and continuing education rates in the Florida College System,” said President Angela Garcia Falconetti. “Our alumni become the highly skilled professionals our community needs in healthcare, advanced manufacturing, engineering, public safety, education, business, and more.”  

Southeastern University

Seven hundred and fifty-five students graduated from Southeastern University this spring. There were 570 undergraduates, 160 at the master’s level and 25 with doctoral degrees, said Dana Davis, Chief Information Officer. 

Of those, 102, or 14% had STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) degrees.  

“Our nursing and kinesiology programs are among the most popular degree programs at SEU,” Davis said. “These programs consistently attract a large number of students each year, often ranking at the top in terms of enrollment compared to other degree programs.” 

President Kent Ingle said he is “incredibly proud of our institution’s role in fostering the economic development of Polk County. Through our innovative academic programs, strong community partnerships and commitment to workforce development, we are preparing the next generation of leaders and professionals who are driving economic growth.  

“By excelling in their careers, our graduates contribute to the economic vitality of Polk County and bring fresh perspectives and skills to the workforce… Through collaborating with local businesses and nonprofit organizations, we are creating new opportunities and enhancing the quality of life in Polk County. At SEU, we are dedicated to making a positive and lasting impact on our community’s economic landscape.”  

Warner University

Chania Kirby Ogden, Marketing and Communications director, said 31 students graduated with an associate’s degree, 143 with an undergraduate degree and 32 with a master’s degree. 

“Approximately 40% of Warner University students are from Polk County. Many of our majors participate in internships related to their fields of study. Allowing them to contribute to local businesses and schools,” said President David Hoag.We aspire for these experiences to lead to their first job opportunities.” 

Webber International University

At its 97th commencement ceremony, Webber International University graduated 186 students. Some will stay in Polk County to work, said Ryan Reis, director of Annual Fund and Alumni Affairs. 

“Several will work for local municipalities, finance companies and in education.”

About two years ago, Webber moved into the STEM field. It launched its health science programs — Nursing and Occupational Therapy. The program has not existed long enough to have graduates. 

At the graduation ceremony, Webber’s President/CEO Nelson Marquez said: “We have a saying here at Webber which you’ll often hear: ‘The Webber Way … We Make Things Happen Here.’ And all of you are witnesses to how we make things happen here. Our graduates are living proof of that.” 

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