Making technical education more local

Allen Carlson.

Talk to many component manufacturers and you’ll hear the phrase “local for local,” meaning that they’re strategically placing facilities near their customers. So, instead of one manufacturing plant in China, they may have one in China, one in the U.S., one in Brazil and one in the Czech Republic. Now, the University of Florida is developing a plan in the sunshine state that might be education’s version of local for local.

Allen Carlson, the retired CEO of Sun Hydraulics, is now working with the University at their Innovation Station-Sarasota County, to assist with this project. Allen told me that he and his staff connect the local needs and opportunities of engineering and tech companies with the assets of the university. Carlson interviews local companies to determine what their needs are—typically around capability and capacity. The other side of the project is that they’re connecting the infrastructure of the local colleges to teach engineering classes for University of Florida College of Engineering.

So a high school senior could apply directly to the University of Florida—and be accepted—but opt to take classes at a local institution such as State College of Florida or Santa Fe Community College. Core classes, like calculus, would be taken locally. It may take a student one or two years to complete those core classes. At the end of those core classes, they automatically transfer to the University of Florida’s main campus in Gainesville (about a three hour drive from Sarasota).

“At the end, you complete their engineering program at the University of Florida Gainesville, and end up with a University of Florida engineering degree with no asterisk. You’re a full University of Florida engineering graduate,” Carlson said.

So is this an approach for all land grant institutions across the U.S.? Carlson said that he thinks each community, each state, has a different need or requirement.

“Programs in each state are going to be a little bit different because they’re going to be tailored to the local community, the businesses in the community, and the assets of the university,” he said. “It’s not a cookie cutter approach—it’s what’s needed.”

Other institutions, such as the University of Texas in Austin are doing a lot of work in this area, and I expect that we’ll see this educational model grow in the coming years, to combat the soaring costs of higher education. Local for local can make a lot of sense, whether in making goods or making future engineers.

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