The evidence is everywhere. Hiring! Apply now! $5,000 Signing Bonus! Across all sectors of Florida’s economy, workers are in high demand. Florida’s independent colleges and universities, with the support of the EASE voucher, can help fulfill that need.
Florida’s independent colleges and universities are market-driven, meaning they respond to the needs of our economy. These higher education institutions are engines of opportunity. They give students the skills, education and experience they need to fulfill the jobs we have available.
Students in Florida are able to attend independent colleges and universities with the help of the EASE voucher. EASE stands for Effective Access to Student Education, and this voucher gives students access to earn a degree and the option to choose the school that is right for them.
EASE is a voucher funded by our state Legislature. Students who live in Florida and qualify for EASE vouchers receive $2,841 per year from the state to help them pay tuition. This is a great investment that has been reaping benefits to our state for more than four decades.
Since the program was established in 1979, hundreds of thousands of Floridians have earned their degrees, launched their careers and powered our state’s economy forward, all with the help of EASE.
In addition, the state’s investment in EASE vouchers has a rippling effect on our state’s broader economy. According to a recent economic impact study finalized by Regional Economic Consulting Group this year, EASE creates more than 21,000 jobs per year, generates $282 million in tax revenue and contributes $3.5 billion in annual economic impact. In simple terms, for every dollar the state spends on EASE, Floridians get 2.5 times the return.
EASE is important to our economy and our workforce. Now more than ever -- with a dire shortage of workers to fill the jobs advertised from nurses to teachers, to engineers and more – we need more graduates to enter the workforce.
Currently, 158,000 students across Florida are enrolled in independent colleges and universities. More than 46,000 of them depend on Florida’s EASE voucher to help them pay tuition.
The Florida Legislature this session, however, may consider cuts to the EASE voucher program that could derail these students’ pursuit of a degree and tighten the bottleneck of graduates preparing to enter the workforce in the years ahead.
Without the EASE voucher, a student’s college career could come to a screeching halt, leaving them without a degree and without the opportunity to launch a career and provide for their families. Importantly, this measure could clog our state’s workforce-in-training. These students and future graduates are essential to our workforce and our economy.
Consider nursing, for example. According to the Florida Hospital Association, 70% of hospitals in Florida are currently experiencing critical staffing shortages. This is a problem nationwide. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, we will need an additional 1.1 million nurses to meet demands by 2022. By 2025, the nursing shortage will be a real crisis.
One-quarter of Florida’s nursing degrees come from Florida’s independent, nonprofit higher education schools. Last year, these institutions produced 3,600 nursing degrees, ranging from associate’s degrees through doctoral. These registered nurses and nurse practitioners are ready for the workforce. Some of them are professors ready to teach the generations of nurses that follow.
As market-driven higher education institutions, the independent colleges and universities of Florida can produce more nursing degrees to meet the demand and avert a crisis.
Florida’s nonprofit, independent colleges and universities are a solution to our state’s labor shortage. More degrees will produce more workers to support all sectors of our economy. But all this is not possible without the EASE voucher.
To fulfill our state’s workforce needs, the Florida Legislature must maintain and fully fund the EASE program. Students depend on the EASE voucher to help pay tuition, and we need their help to keep our economy moving forward.
Bob Boyd is the President & CEO of the Independent Colleges and Universities of Florida, an association representing 30 SACS-accredited, nonprofit institutions that offer more than 190 campuses in Florida where students can earn certificates, associate's degrees, bachelor's degrees and graduate degrees.
This article originally appeared on Fort Myers News-Press: EASE voucher allows Florida students to attend independent colleges universities