Students who intend to pursue a degree, whether in a traditional campus setting or through online education, might find the perfect fit in Florida schools. Higher education is a priority in the state, with 38.1 percent of Florida's working-age population holding a two-year or four-year degree in 2012 -- a nice increase over the 37 percent that held a degree the year before, as reported by the Lumina Foundation. According to the study, over 10 percent of Florida adults held an associate degree that year, 18 percent had their bachelor's, and nine percent had earned a graduate or professional degree.
Those interested in joining the ranks of degree holders in Florida can find numerous opportunities through both traditional and online schools. Florida is home to many impressive universities, including such powerhouses as University of Florida, Florida State University, and University of Miami -- an institution ranked 47th among National University Rankings by U.S. News and World Report. Those who prefer distance learning are in luck; the state boasts many aggressive initiatives that aim to bring online education in Florida to more students than ever before.
- Why Should I Earn a Degree in Florida?
- What Makes Florida Ideal for Online Education?
- Top Degrees in Florida
- Top Cities for Florida College Students
- College Roadmap
- Scholarships and Financial Aid
Florida is home to 14 public four-year institutions and 62 two-year public institutions, setting the stage for numerous degree opportunities. In fact, there are so many institutions of higher learning in the state that all residents live within 50 miles of one, according to Enterprise Florida. The Sunshine State has the most affordable average tuition in the nation, with students graduating from a four-year university at a cost of $46,071, according to the Leaders & Laggards Report from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Those who attend two-year colleges also see low tuition rates, at an average of $38,126 to earn their degree.
Once the degree is complete, there are many booming industries in Florida that could offer opportunities for graduates. Florida has long been a leader in the aerospace and aviation industry, with the largest airport for international cargo, space launch capabilities, and significant operational hubs for powerhouse industry leaders like Lockheed Martin and Boeing. But there are several other industries that might lure graduates, including:
- Life sciences
- Homeland security
- Financial and professional services
- Logistics and distribution
- Information technology
Those who do chose to settle in Florida after graduation can enjoy a cost of living on a par with the average in the United States. In 2012, the median household income for a Florida family was $47,390, according to the U.S. Census. Home ownership was above the national average at 68.1 percent, and the median value of a home was $170,800. Residents might also be happy to know that Florida has no state income tax.
Arts and culture is booming in the state, as is recreation: the state is home to numerous professional sports teams and over 1,000 golf courses. And don't forget the climate: There's a reason Florida is known as the Sunshine State!
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Online education in Florida is a leader among all states, with numerous initiatives that offer students the opportunity to earn course credit, continuing education requirements, and full degrees through online-only work. In fact, Florida is home to the nation's first online-only public university, launched in 2014 through the University of Florida system. Complete Florida is another strong move, this one aimed at helping the 2.2 million adults in Florida that have earned college credit go back to school to complete their degree.
The Florida Virtual Campus pulls online courses and degree programs together into a portal, offering students comprehensive information on distance education available at public and private colleges in the state. The website has information on financial aid, admission requirements, university profiles, and more to help ensure that students have all they need to begin their journey through distance learning.
Completing online degrees in Florida has become a popular option for students; roughly 71,000 students systemwide, or 21 percent, complete their undergraduate or graduate degrees entirely online, according to the Tallahassee Democrat. With increasing initiatives for higher education online, as well as colleges like Florida State and Florida A&M University providing new offerings over the last few years, distance learning in Florida is definitely enjoying an upward trend.
When choosing an online college, students should conduct the same in-depth research they would for any other institution. "Completing a bachelor's or master's degree is an investment that can provide returns for the rest of your working life, so take the time to choose the one that's right for you and that requires doing some homework," says Patrick Partridge, who handles marketing and enrollment for Western Governor's University.
"It's important to find a school that's accredited and one that is respected and legitimate in the eyes of hiring managers and other institutions," he adds. "Call enrollment offices, ask for the experiences of students and alumni on schools' Facebook pages, and read objective news coverage about the university you're looking into. Also, realize that higher cost does not always mean higher quality. For example, competency-based education programs, such as those offered at WGU, rewards students for knowledge and skills they already possessed -- helping them save both time and money."
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Those looking for job security and a great paycheck should look no further than these top careers in Florida. As with most states in the nation, the majority of the top-paying jobs are in the medical field; in fact, with the exception of chief executives and physicists, the highest-paying jobs in Florida include doctors, surgeons, psychiatrists, and orthodontists, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Florida schools that focus on medical disciplines are a good bet for those who want to take advantage of the high salaries commanded by doctors, surgeons, and the like. Excellent opportunities are available at the Florida College of Medicine (University of Florida), the Leonard M. Miller School of Medicine (University of Miami), and the Charles E. Schmidt College of Medicine (Florida Atlantic University), among others. The University of Florida also ranks in the top 50 for graduate nursing degrees, according to U.S. News and World Report, while the University of Central Florida ranks among the top 25 in the nation for online nursing degrees.
Professions outside the medical world that bring in top dollar include airline pilot, air traffic controller, and engineering manager, reports Economic Modeling Specialists Intl, or EMSI. The fastest-growing careers are also a good area to research, as students certainly need to know where the majority of jobs are before they embark on a degree program. Since 2007, physicians and surgeons, lawyers, physical therapists, computer software engineers in applications, chief executives, and occupational therapists have seen the greatest growth, according to EMSI. Here's what students need to know to get started on these excellent degree paths:
- Airline pilot. Pilots typically need a bachelor's degree, as well as a commercial pilot's license and a Airline Transport Pilot certificate. Many Florida schools offer these certificates, including the Tampa Florida Flight Training Center, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, and Silver Express Flight Center.
- Air traffic controller. A two- or four-year degree through the Air Traffic Collegiate Training Initiative is required for this position. Among schools offering the AT-CTI program are Florida State College, the Florida Institute of Technology, and Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.
- Engineering manager. This position requires a great deal of experience as well as a bachelor's degree to get started. Fortunately, Florida is home to many excellent engineering schools; University of Florida ranks 42 in the nation for engineering, according to U.S. News and World Report, while Embry-Riddle ranks 11th among regional universities in the South.
- Lawyer. An attorney must hold a Juris Doctor degree before taking the bar, and that means attending law school. Florida State University and University of Florida both ranked in the top 50 among best law schools in the nation, according to U.S. News and World Report.
- Physical therapist. Physical therapists must earn a master's degree in order to practice. Numerous colleges in Florida offer accredited physical therapy programs, including University of North Florida, Florida International University, and Florida Gulf Coast University, just to name a few.
- Computer software engineer. This work requires a bachelor's degree in computer science, computer engineering, or a related field. University of Florida ranks highly for computer engineering, but there are many other options for this degree, as most colleges and universities in the state offer a variety of programs focusing on computer science disciplines.
- Occupational therapist. In order to earn the master's degree or doctorate required for this job, students might enter an accredited doctorate program at Nova Southeastern University, or pursue their master's at one of eight colleges in Florida, including University of St. Augustine or Barry University.
- Chief executives. The education required for this position varies, but experience is definitely a key component. Many choose to pursue their management or business degree in order to have an edge against others who might want the job of head honcho. Florida State University, University of Florida, and Florida International University consistently get attention for their business and management courses.
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Florida is definitely the home of sun and fun, as evidenced by the vast numbers of students who take to its beaches every year to celebrate spring break. Here are a few major cities in the state that deserve a mention:
- Jacksonville. Home to the Jacksonville Jaguars and over 850,000 people, the city of Jacksonville is near the Georgia border. It is part of the Greater Jacksonville metropolitan area, with a population of over 1.3 million. This largest city in Florida is home to numerous higher education institutions, including University of North Florida, Jacksonville University, Edward Waters College, Florida Coastal School of Law, and Jones College, among others.
- Miami. Located between the Atlantic Ocean and the Everglades, Miami is filled with over 410,000 residents, plenty of tourists, and sweltering heat. The larger Miami-Dade metropolitan area plays host to the Florida Marlins, Miami Heat, and over 2.4 million people. It is also home to University of Miami, Miami Dade College, Johnson and Wales University, and numerous other schools.
- Tampa. Part of the greater Tampa Bay area, the city itself contains over 350,000 people, and the greater area boasts over 2.9 million residents. Tampa is home to MacDill Air Force Base, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and numerous colleges and universities, such as the University of Tampa and the University of South Florida, one of the 20 largest universities in the nation.
- Gainesville. Though not one of the largest cities in Florida, it is special for one very clear educational reason: Go Gators! Gainesville has a population of just over 124,000 residents, with more than 247,000 in the larger metro area. The University of Florida, ranked 49th among National Universities in U.S. News and World Report, boasts an enrollment of 50,000 students annually. Other universities in Gainesville include City College and Santa Fe College.
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Not sure which area of Florida is best? Students can embark on a roadtrip just like this one to hit various colleges and universities that might suit their fancy:
Taking a drive through Florida promises to be filled with great scenery, sunny weather, and more than a few colleges and universities to admire along the way. Start at Jacksonville, right at the Georgia border, and take some time to admire the ocean before visiting the University of North Florida. While there, students can stroll the handsome campus of Trinity Baptist College or say hello at Florida Technical College.
Heading down the coast, students will find more surf and sun, as well as Daytona Beach, where they can stop at Bethune-Cookman University -- and don't forget the community colleges along the way. Continuing down the coast takes the roadtrip to the University of Central Florida and the Florida Institute of Technology. Heading further south, students cruise into Boca Raton, Fort Lauderdale, and Miami -- home to numerous universities, both public and private. From Florida International University to Miami International University of Art and Design, there are several to choose from -- but the biggest by far is University of Miami.
After a day in Key West to touch the southernmost point of the United States, it's back on the road and up the west coast to Naples, then Fort Myers and Sarasota -- with stops to admire Hodges University, Southwest Florida College, and New College of Florida. Further up is University of Tampa, Valencia College, and a few hours later, Gainesville -- home of the University of Florida.
But there's still the panhandle, with more beaches to enjoy and plenty of higher education. Tallahassee offers Florida A&M University for student consideration, while sunny Panama City is home to Gulf Coast State College. Take a drive to the corner of the state and say hello to Pensacola State College before driving out into Alabama.
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No matter where a student chooses to go to school, one big question must be addressed: How much will it cost? Whether students opt for a state school, private institution, community college, or online education, there is no doubt that higher education can be expensive. Fortunately, financial aid is available to help students pay the tuition, fees, room and board, and other costs that come along with going to college.
Florida is very generous with financial assistance. According to the Leaders & Laggards Report, students at the four-year university level receive an average of $41,647 in state and local funding to complete their degree, which is slightly above the national average. Those in two-year colleges reap the biggest benefits, however, with $21,115 in average state and local funding -- putting Florida in the top five states in the nation for two-year funding.
In addition to this aid, there are numerous scholarship options available to Florida students. Many scholarship and grant programs are administered by the Florida Department of Education, but there are also many options through local, regional and private organizations or companies. In most cases, these scholarships and grants apply both to the traditional college experience and online programs.
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The American Occupational Therapy Association Inc., http://www.aota.org/en/Education-Careers/Find-School.aspx
"Best Law Schools 2015," U.S. News and World Report, 2014, http://grad-schools.usnews.rankingsandreviews.com/best-graduate-schools/top-law-schools/law-rankings/page+2
"Best Online Graduate Nursing Programs," U.S. News and World Report, 2014, http://www.usnews.com/education/online-education/nursing/rankings?page=2
"Education," City of Jacksonville, FL, http://www.coj.net/about-jacksonville/education.aspx
"Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University," U.S. News and World Report, 2014, http://colleges.usnews.rankingsandreviews.com/best-colleges/embry-riddle-aeronautical-university-1479/rankings
Enterprise Florida: Industries, http://www.enterpriseflorida.com/industries/
"Facts about Miami," Miami for Visitors, http://www.miamiforvisitors.com/local/facts.htm
Florida Virtual Campus, https://www.flvc.org/home
"Florida to Open First Online-Only Public University in U.S.," Huffington Post, June 23, 2013, Bill Cotterell, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/04/23/florida-online-university_n_3135328.html
"Florida Quick Facts," United States Census Bureau, July 2014, http://quickfacts.census.gov/qfd/states/12000.html
"May 2013 State Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates: Florida," Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment Statistics, 2014, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes_fl.htm#otherlinks
"Leaders & Laggards: Florida," U.S. Chamber of Commerce, http://www.uschamberfoundation.org/reportcard/florida/
"National University Rankings," U.S. News and World Report, 2014, http://colleges.usnews.rankingsandreviews.com/best-colleges/rankings/national-universities/spp%2B50
"Ned Lautenbach: Online education takes off in Florida," Tallahassee Democrat, August 19, 2014, http://www.tallahassee.com/story/opinion/columnists/2014/08/19/ned-lautenbach-online-education-takes-florida/14309583/
"Schools and Libraries," City of Tampa, FL, http://www.tampagov.net/info/schools-and-libraries
"State Scholarship and Grant Programs," Florida Department of Education, http://www.floridastudentfinancialaid.org/SSFAD/home/uamain.htm
"A Stronger Nation Through Higher Education: Florida," The Lumina Foundation, http://strongernation.luminafoundation.org/report/#florida
"Top Jobs in Florida for 2012," EMSI, March 27, 2012, Gwen Burrow, http://www.economicmodeling.com/2012/03/27/top-jobs-in-florida-for-2012/