Getting back to square one: Universities should focus on community needs

Posted 4/26/23

In American higher education, “mission creep” has spread to many college campuses.

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Getting back to square one: Universities should focus on community needs


In American higher education, “mission creep” has spread to many college campuses.

Universities are constantly aspiring to be something else – something bigger, something more prestigious – and too often try to be everything to everybody. They want to have 10-figure endowments, reject more applicants than they admit and play sports in a Power 5 conference.

Florida Gulf Coast University has taken a different approach. Since its founding, FGCU has maintained a commitment to student success, sustainability, technology and innovation. FGCU wasn’t created as a state university located in Southwest Florida; it was created as a state university FOR Southwest Florida.

It is the intellectual training ground for our region’s workforce, offering academic degree programs that will diversify, strengthen and grow our economy, such as environmental studies, bioengineering, entrepreneurship and many disciplines within STEM.

FGCU has more than 40,000 alumni, many of whom serve as teachers, biologists, accountants, nurses, physical therapists, engineers, business owners and other occupational leaders right here in Southwest Florida. We are producing highly skilled graduates for the jobs that we have now, as well as the jobs we’ll need in the future. The university’s faculty research teams are working to protect our natural resources, like water quality, mangroves and wetlands. Faculty leaders are proposing new courses and degree programs based on their industry knowledge and connections within Southwest Florida.

That is exactly what a university should be doing – producing graduates who support the workforce’s needs and conducting research on matters of paramount importance to the surrounding community.

Unfortunately, popular college ranking and rating systems often miss the mark, giving universities the best marks based on the selectivity of admissions, size of their endowment, faculty compensation levels, test scores of incoming students, records of sports teams and other factors that don’t necessarily reflect an institution’s ability to prepare graduates for the future and fulfill responsibilities to the community.

There is a new ranking system gaining momentum in the U.S., though. The Hanseatic League of Universities, a global organization of universities focused on collaboration, innovation and entrepreneurship, created the World’s Universities with Real Impact (WURI) rankings, which highlight institutions that contribute to society by creating innovative approaches to research and educational programs. Universities are evaluated based on entrepreneurship, social responsibility, student mobility, industrial application, crisis management, ability to use digital technology and other factors.

In 2022, FGCU ranked No. 47 on WURI’s Global Top 100 Innovative Universities list, joining institutions in 33 countries and five continents. The 2023 WURI rankings will be released right in our backyard, in fact, right on our campus. FGCU is hosting the third annual HLU Conference, drawing more than 200 presidents, chancellors and academic officers from leading universities around the world who will see firsthand what we all recognize – the best universities are those that offer creative and innovative approaches to education and research, ultimately enhancing the communities they call home.

About the Author
Mike Martin has been president of Florida Gulf Coast University since 2017 after leading universities in Colorado, Louisiana and New Mexico.

FGCU, education, college