FSU and FAMU receive state grant to fund opportunities in IT, computer science

As part of an ambitious effort to align college degrees with the state’s workforce needs, the Florida Board of Governors has awarded $15 million in grants to four university projects, including a joint proposal by Florida State University and Florida A&M University.

The grants, funded by the Florida Legislature and approved by Gov. Rick Scott, each went to collaborative higher education projects designed to produce more students for careers in high-need areas, from accounting to information technology.

FSU and FAMU will share a $3 million grant for the joint proposal, “Expanding North Florida’s IT Career Pathways,” which intends to expand the capacities of the institutions to recruit, retain and graduate students in computer science and information technology.

Larry Dennis, dean of the College of Communication and Information at Florida State, said the funding would enable FSU and FAMU to create the Florida IT Careers Alliance.

The Florida IT Careers Alliance is a joint project between FSU’s College of Communication and Information and its College of Arts and Sciences and the FAMU-FSU College of Engineering.

“The Alliance’s focus is to help students from North Florida high schools, community colleges, four-year colleges and universities discover and realize opportunities in information technology careers,” Dennis said. “We intend to build lasting collaborations between academic and industry leaders, increase IT workforce capacity and help Florida’s companies become even more competitive.”

All eyes are on the future, said Simon Foo, chair of the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering in the FAMU-FSU College of Engineering.

“Ultimately, this will help build a sustainable pipeline of highly trained students in information technology to meet the workforce needs of the future,” Foo said.

Robert van Engelen, chair of FSU’s Department of Computer Science, said the grants will allow Florida State to build upon its strong degree programs in computer science, computer engineering and information technology.

“The Board of Governors grant awarded to FSU is instrumental in building a stronger relationship with our partnering local high schools, community colleges and companies, and in fostering a shared vision for broadening access to education for training a highly skilled workforce for Florida,” van Engelen said.

With the grant, FAMU’s College of Science and Technology also will hire new faculty and staff in the Department of Computer and Information Sciences, enhance the computer science curriculum, develop and expand industry partnerships, enhance efforts to recruit and retain computer science majors, and improve job placement results for computer science graduates.

“This grant award is significant in that it will enhance the college’s capacity to produce STEM graduates in high-need areas, such as the IT and computer science fields,” said Maurice Edington, dean of the FAMU College of Science and Technology. “This award also highlights the important role that FAMU continues to play in helping to address the workforce needs of the state of Florida and the nation.”

The Board of Governors awards follow more than 18 months of work by the Commission on Florida Higher Education Access and Attainment, a coalition of education, business and legislative leaders that identified the largest gaps between bachelor’s degree production and job needs. The effort marks an unprecedented level of collaboration between elected leaders, universities, state colleges and the business community.

“This is just one great example of how our institutions are responding to the job needs of our state,” said former Board of Governors Chair Dean Colson, who launched the commission. “Florida is a national leader in that regard, as evidenced by the strength of the proposals that won these prestigious awards.”

The Board of Governors also awarded grants to the following proposals:

  • The University of Central Florida, the University of South Florida and Florida International University will receive $4.9 million for “An Urban University Coalition Response to Florida Computer Information Technology Workforce Needs.”
  • The University of South Florida, the University of Central Florida and Florida International University will receive a combined $3.6 million for “An Innovative and Collaborative Approach to Increasing the Supply of Quality Accounting Graduates in Florida.”
  • Florida Atlantic University, Broward College and Palm Beach State College will receive a combined $3.5 million for a “Computer Accelerated Pipeline to Unlock Regional Excellence.”

The four projects were selected through a competitive application process that included 12 proposals.

Among other requirements, all grantees must spend the funds by the end of the 2014-2015 academic year. They will submit semiannual reports to document outcomes, including the number of graduates entering the high-demand field.

“Aligning university and college degrees with the state’s workforce needs will help foster a talent supply pipeline focused on Florida’s future,” said David Hart, executive vice president of the Florida Chamber of Commerce. “This will provide greater opportunities for job creators to successfully compete in a global marketplace, and greater opportunities for Florida families.”