I recently went on a trip to Louisville, Kentucky, arranged by Sarasota’s Chamber of Commerce and Economic Development Corporation. Its purpose was to get a sense of the ways business, government and educational, cultural and sports organizations have pulled together to market the Louisville region. Yes, the city is vibrant, but, at the risk of sounding like an ungrateful guest, it’s got nothing on us.
Let’s just talk here about education and the arts. In addition to a stunning array of performing arts companies, our Sarasota-Manatee region boasts one of every type of American higher educational institutions except a research university. We have a liberal arts college (New College), an arts and technical college (Ringling College of Art and Design), a regional comprehensive (University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee) and a former community college (State College of Florida). That sounds like an e-mail inbox, until we realize just how good our academies are. New College is ranked fourth nationwide in public liberal arts colleges; Ringling College is in the top five in the country for arts and technical colleges. Both USF-SM and SCF occupy the top tier for their respective categories.
In short, we have an embarrassment of riches. What’s more, we house outstanding research institutions and specialized enterprises. Let’s just list a few examples: The Asolo Conservatory at The Ringling-Florida State University offers a high quality three-year master’s of fine arts in theater arts. Its students graduate holding an Actors’ Equity Card, the ticket to employment in theater. Sarasota Memorial is a nationally recognized non-profit hospital, hosting superb physicians, some engaged in cutting-edge research. FSU and Sarasota Memorial have joined forces to offer a medical residency program. Individuals can also get master’s degrees at USF-SM – and soon at New College, the Ringling-FSU and possibly at Ringling College. The University of Florida has just opened a program offering a master’s in architecture. The Roskamp Institute conducts first-rate research in brain disorders and trauma and offers a targeted and selective PhD program. Mote Marine Laboratory does oceanographic research of the highest quality. And the Eiling O. Eide Charitable Foundation and library will soon draw scholars in Asian studies from around the globe.
What we have here in our blessed corner of Florida are the pieces of a new type of research university: a thoroughly American, 21st-century, dispersed multiversity. Our educational institutions have entirely different missions. They are complementary and they do not compete. Last year, we piloted a cross-registration program by which students at any one institution could take courses at another, for credit at their home college and without extra charge. It was a start. If fully implemented, we would have an economic and educational engine the likes of which has never been seen. And this is before one factors in the creative resources offered by our extraordinary arts organizations. Sarasota-Bradenton can lead the way in revolutionizing higher education–and attracting the best and the brightest to settle, innovate and create not just jobs but industries and careers that do not yet exist.
This article first appeared on SRQMagazine.com.