Randy Avent: Florida Poly’s academic muscle wins #1 national ‘champion’ distinction

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You could certainly say Florida Poly is on a winning streak.

With all due deference to the NCAA, you don’t need to have a high-powered athletics program to be No. 1. Few universities may ever have a national championship athletic season — but we embrace working to own a national academic championship as often as possible.

Here at Florida Polytechnic University, we’re proudly shouting it for all to hear: We’re #1! In its prestigious annual rankings of best colleges, U.S. News named Florida Poly as the very best among public colleges in the South. It’s our first appearance on that list, and it’s certainly nice to debut at the top — #1.

The U.S. News ranking was just one of several bits of outstanding news that, together, tell a very favorable story about how our small university has a valuable presence in the I-4 high-tech corridor. The word is out: Florida Poly is a remarkable school providing an exceptional STEM education to some of the state’s brightest minds — students who will soon take their place shaping Florida’s high-tech economic future.

It’s more than just one ranking that recognizes how far Florida Poly has come in the seven years since it opened. We recently announced our first partnership with a Fortune 500 company, International Flavors & Fragrances (IFF), which will become the first tenant of a research park we expect will soon attract tremendous investment and innovation to our campus. We believe this public-private partnership could pave the way for other high-tech companies to turn our stretch of I-4 into a modern version of Silicon Valley.

On the heels of that historic announcement, one of our esteemed faculty members received a two-year National Science Foundation grant to research the durability and longevity of critical 3D printed superalloy materials used in rockets and jet engines, to make sure they can withstand ever-increasing stresses.

You could certainly say Florida Poly is on a winning streak — but it’s important to recognize that, as with any winning team, these successes didn’t happen overnight. They are the result of a steady, well-planned strategy to move the university from startup to prominence. Best of all, every sign surely points to these recent achievements as just the beginning.

Technical research universities like Florida Poly attract the interest of high-tech businesses because they want access to the quality of graduates we produce — the high-demand, low-supply kind with the specialized skills and aptitude we see every day. The Legislature and Board of Governors have been saying for some time that they want Florida’s universities to offer programs that lead graduates to high-paying jobs in the fields that will shape the future. That’s exactly what we’re doing.

Florida Poly is zooming up the U.S. News rankings among engineering schools without a Ph.D., well on the way to our goal of becoming a Top 15 school on that list as we look to build our engineering school of distinction.

Corporate America is learning about Florida Poly, and so are the bright young Floridians who are the future. We ranked right behind Harvard — and ahead of Stanford — on WalletHub’s rankings of career outcomes for students. And Florida Poly’s enrollment numbers show just how well word is spreading — our new freshman class is 25% larger than the one a year ago, as we continue our pattern of deliberate growth.

Our outstanding showing in the U.S. News rankings, our new partnership with a Fortune 500 company, and our largest incoming class yet, among other achievements, are evidence that Florida Poly has matured into a dynamic provider of STEM education, on par with some of the best-known institutions in the nation. Our academic programs, which provide a high-touch model with small classes and strong curricular experiences, continue to grow and provide a rich environment that fosters student development and success.

And we’re able to do it all without the high overhead of some larger universities. The same U.S. News survey concluded that Florida Poly offers the best value of all public institutions in Florida. Our modest tuition — less than $5,000 in-state — along with institutional financial aid and scholarship packages creates a strong draw for many talented students interested in an affordable, top-flight STEM education delivered in a personal setting.

At Florida Poly, we have our own type of superstars, and we’re delighted to earn recognition for our academic success. In the end, that’s the kind of #1 ‘championship’ that will help shape the future.

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Randy K. Avent, Ph.D. is the president of Florida Polytechnic University in Lakeland, the state’s only public university dedicated 100% to STEM.

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