Business Leaders of the Year

Dr. Sandy Shugart | Valencia College

Valencia College
2018 Business Leaders of the Year | Education and Talent Pipeline

When Sandy Shugart attended college in the 1970s at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, he had what people then considered the “normal” college experience: leaving town to start college right after high school, living on or near campus, attending school full time and working part time.

“That now represents about 15 percent of the undergraduate experience,” said Shugart, who has seen the post-high school educational path evolve in his role as president of Valencia College since 2000. “We think of that as the main way — going to football games, joining a fraternity or sorority, living on campus in dormitories. That is not at all the dominant way people go to college today.”

Students are more mobile now and more likely to blend life with learning, he said. Locally, they tap into an ecosystem of institutions that have partnered to create a continuum of education, including Valencia College, Seminole State and the University of Central Florida (UCF). They attend some classes in person and others online. Some of them start in community college and transfer to universities for their last two years and graduate school, while others earn four-year degrees at community colleges.

In Orange County alone, six of every 10 high school graduates who continue their education go to Valencia, Shugart said. About 15 percent attend a state university, another 15 percent head to another state college or an independent college or proprietary school, and 10 percent go into the military or an apprenticeship.

As the population of Central Florida and the whole state continues to grow, Valencia expects to see 60,000 more students in the next 15 years, with UCF and Seminole State seeing a combined 30,000 additional students. This is what keeps Shugart up at night.

At the same time, Central Florida is experiencing what Shugart calls a profound shortage of workers in several industries. “This is a long-term shortage,” he said. “The baby boomers are retiring, the economy is growing, and we have lots of vacant jobs in healthcare, manufacturing, construction, safety and security, and transportation and logistics. It’s getting very difficult to hire a lot of these folks.”

To meet those needs, Valencia has embarked on numerous high-profile initiatives under Shugart’s leadership. It’s expanding its four-year degree offerings and creating additional specialty programs to grow the talent pipeline in Central Florida.

“We can train people in a matter of weeks, rather than years, to get them employed productively — and in full-time, stable employment with benefits,” Shugart said. “We’ve built dozens of programs that are short in duration but lead to significant improvement in earnings.”

Valencia is also working on a joint project with UCF to open a shared campus in August 2019 that is expected to transform the look and feel of downtown Orlando. It will bring 7,000 students into the heart of the city west of Interstate 4, along with housing, restaurants, park space and entertainment options to serve them. One goal of the downtown campus is to reach working adults, including those in underserved areas where people might be the first in their families to go to college.

“The great opportunity for colleges like Valencia now is to restore the American promise that if you work hard and study, there is economic mobility available to you,” Shugart said. “People can get ahead. Their ZIP code doesn’t have to determine their potential.

“This could change the trajectory of many people’s lives — people who work in the contingent economy now, who are working part-time with no benefits and are very susceptible to the interruption of their work,” Shugart said. “Our vision is to change the trajectory of 5,000 families a year with programs like that. We’re scaling it now. We’ve got a ways to go, but it’s looking very promising.”

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About the author

Diane Sears

A career journalist, author and advocate for business growth, Diane Sears is the CEO, editor and publisher of i4 Business. She is also the founder and president of DiVerse Media LLC, which has handled content marketing projects including nonfiction books, white papers, executive speeches and scripts since 2000. She is co-founder of the nonprofit Go for the Greens Foundation, which helps connect women-owned and minority-owned business owners with growth opportunities internationally.

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