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While helping prepare students for the future, the College of Central Florida is an economic engine for the tri-county region.
With its main campus in Ocala, the Lecanto campus gives CF a large multifaceted role in Citrus County. There is also a location in Levy County and a strong online presence.
Collectively, the college represents an economic impact on Citrus, Levy and Marion counties estimated at nearly $350 million annually with about 10,380 average-wage jobs.
The figure represents student spending, college operations and student productivity.
The sum and its components were measured by a study on CF’s economic impact released in December. It analyzed the effectiveness of the investment of public and student dollars and the related economic growth.
During 2011 and 2012, CF served 15,470 students, including 3,156 from Citrus County. Most of the students — about 94 percent — are from the tri-county area.
The Lecanto campus has about 2,200 students each semester, with more than 1,000 students registered for the current summer term.
That year, CF had 434 full-time employees with an annual payroll of $31.2 million. There have been some staff reductions since, but approximately 90 percent of the employees live in the region.
Overall, CF spends about $34 million a year for goods and services with more than $12 million spent locally. The study found income generated by CF operations, plus the spending of non-local students, is about $41.4 million annually.
Isolating the rest of the impact — $308.3 million — is more complex. It involves student productivity and putting a dollar value on completed college credits to project income growth based on the added skills of CF students.
There is also an estimated savings in social costs not included in that figure. The study determined that added income attributed to the accumulation of CF credits in the workforce amounts to about $308.3 million each year.
Those totals make up the estimated annual $349.7 million impact, about 3.5 percent of the total regional economy.
Funding Estimating CF’s value to the region also required determining its funding by source. For 2010 and 2011, it received about $66.3 million in revenue. Tuition and fees comprised 16 percent, state government 39 percent, federal government 31 percent, and other sources, including donations, about 8 percent.
There is no local government funding, but state and local governments benefit from increased tax revenues and savings associated with avoided social costs.
What it means
College President James Henningsen put the findings in perspective and elaborated on CF’s mission.
He said the college has a clear regional role to “be a catalyst for improving the educational attainment level, the skills and qualifications of graduates as they prepare for the workforce.”
One measure of that during the next five years is the baccalaureate attainment level.
“We’re at a competitive regional disadvantage for economic development of our current businesses as well as the recruitment of new businesses,” he said, “because the educational attainment level of our population is very low. It’s low compared to the state and the state’s lower than the national average.”
He cited unemployment numbers as they relate to education levels. “Our goal is to help educate the population about the value of their degree,” he said. “I tell students it’s the best investment you’ll make in your life.”
To him, the beauty of CF is that it’s a comprehensive college that can do everything from bachelor degrees to certificates or specialized job training.
“We do, do it all,” he said. “It’s difficult to afford that model, but we are working on being as efficient as we can.”
Regarding regional economic development, Henningsen said CF does not lead it, but is a strong partner and a resource.
“It’s something we’re definitely going to be partnering with,” he said.
Areas include developing entrepreneurial skills and small business development.
As for whether CF is appreciated: absolutely, he said. The value of the college is recognized by communities not just for its role in economic development, but for its cultural and social value, too.
“There is definitely knowledge out there in all three of our counties on the value of the college,” he said.
While CF will emphasize its bachelor degrees, the president said it is not turning into a four-year college and will continue its open-door mission.
“It’s a great access point for education and extremely cost-effective,” he said. “Nobody can beat us on value when you look at price and quality of what you get.”
Henningsen cited the $10,000 bachelor’s degree.
“It’s a deal,” he said. “I hope we get a lot of students interested.”
He said CF will be applying to the state this year to offer a Bachelor of Science degree in nursing that will be available to students at the Citrus campus. And with limited funds, they are evaluating current programs to determine whether they are still viable options for the community.
At Citrus Campus
“We’re very engaged with the community,” said CF Vice President Vernon Lawter, who oversees the Citrus Campus. “We host community events for other agencies and institutions from all over the county.
“A lot of them are put on by our workforce partners, the chamber, Workforce Connection, the Economic Development Council and SCORE, which operates from our campus.”
He said there is also an active student life at the campus, with 11 student clubs and organizations.
“Student life has really grown on campus,” he said. “It’s helped create a vibrant culture on campus for that college feel. We’re a lot closer to having that now than a few years ago.”
Contact Chronicle reporter Pat Faherty at 352-564-2924 or firstname.lastname@example.org.