As part of an ambitious effort to align university and college degrees with the state’s workforce needs, Florida’s Board of Governors awarded $15 million in grants to four collaborative university projects Thursday, including $4.9 million to a newly formed consortium among Florida International University, the University of Central Florida and the University of South Florida to produce more students for careers in information technology and computer science.

The three universities confer over 25,000 bachelor’s degrees annually, including nearly 1,000 in the targeted areas. They are located in the urban areas that house the vast majority of technology related jobs, and account for 60 percent of the in-state job placement for these targeted areas and 72 percent of the placement for information technology majors.

“Together with our partners, we are committed to substantially increase the number of our graduates in IT-related fields,” said Amir Mirmiran, dean of FIU’s College of Engineering & Computing. “We believe this will have a profound impact on our IT ecosystem in South Florida.”

The Targeted Educational Attainment (TEAm) grants, funded by the Florida Legislature and approved by Gov. Rick Scott during the last legislative session, are designed to produce more graduates for careers in the state’s highest-need areas, as identified by a Board of Governors gap analysis.

“In collaboration with UCF and USF, we are now positioning ourselves to enhance the number and quality of graduates in IT and computer science areas,” said S.S. Iyengar, director of FIU’s School of Computing and Information Sciences. “Furthermore, this partnership will solidify the growth of IT companies in Florida.”

The awards mark a major accomplishment for FIU, UCF and USF, which collectively received a total of $8.5 million to address gaps in the areas of information technology and accounting, respectively. The two proposals were:

  • UCF, USF and FIU will receive $4.9 million for An Urban University Coalition Response to Florida Computer Information Technology Workforce Needs.
  • USF, UCF and FIU will receive a combined $3.6 million for An Innovative and Collaborative Approach to Increasing the Supply of Quality Accounting Graduates in Florida.

The universities, located in Florida’s three largest metropolitan areas and collectively serving about half of the students in the State University System, have recently formed the Florida Consortium of Metropolitan Universities.

Through this consortium, the universities will share best practices, policies and programs to provide maximized career-readiness, particularly among under-represented and limited-income students. Examples include enhanced predictive analytics to better track students’ degree progress, more targeted support through mentors and advisers, and closer partnerships with local companies to open up more internship or practicum opportunities.

The universities will also explore ways to maximize efficiencies by sharing things like software programs or student tracking systems to continue upward trends in student retention, completion and career placement.

The universities will use the shared knowledge gained in the forming of the consortium to tackle the projects funded through these TEAm grants.

“At FIU we pride ourselves in being a solutions center and preparing our students not only to take good jobs but to create good jobs,” said FIU President Mark B. Rosenberg. “The Florida Consortium of Metropolitan Universities accepts these grants as a vote of confidence and a challenge to work smarter for all Floridians.”

The TEAm awards follow more than 18 months of work by the Board of Governors’ 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.

“Providing opportunities for Florida’s students to compete in the global economy is critical to our future success as a state,” said House Speaker Will Weatherford. “The Florida Legislature was proud to provide support to the Board of Governors in its efforts to link our state universities to our workforce.”

“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.”

“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 job seekers and their families.”

The additional winners are:

  • Florida State University and Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University will receive a combined $3 million for Expanding North Florida’s IT Career Pathways.
  • 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.

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