October 02, 2017

Offer to FGCU from Babcock Ranch still stands

By: Vicki Parsons - IT

Charlotte Sun 9/21
Staff Writer

Ten years ago, a commitment of about $3 million and 70 acres of land at Babcock Ranch was extended to Florida Gulf Coast University.
And today, the offer still stands, said Syd Kitson, chairman & CEO of Kitson & Partners, the new town’s maker. Kitson has served on the Florida Board of Governors since June after he was appointed by the governor for a seven-year term. The board is responsible for overseeing operation and management of Florida’s public university system of a dozen institutions — including the 20-year-old FGCU in nearby Lee County.
It remains to be seen if FGCU will snatch up the offer, but for now the university’s focus is on a growing main campus.
Despite some complaints about FGCU no longer offering for-credit classes in Charlotte County, outside of online options, FGCU officials have said there just isn’t the demand right now.

Syd Kitson, chairman & CEO of Kitson & Partners

Susan Evans, FGCU vice president and chief of staff, said the focus has been on the main campus, which has been affected by state funding cuts.
“We hope to obtain some construction funds during the next legislative session so that we can continue to build out our campus,” Evans said. “State funding cuts are not related to for-credit offerings in Charlotte County. Rather, it has been the lack of student demand.”
An original mission of the school is to serve an entire five-county region including, Collier, Lee, Charlotte, Glades and Hendry.
And Kitson believes the university remains on a trajectory “to fulfill that promise in the region.”
Babcock in Charlotte County is already becoming an education destination.
Demand for the new K-6 charter school in Babcock this year, for example, is double the supply of student slots available. That was without advertising, Kitson added.
Right now, FGCU is leasing space in Punta Gorda to house its Herald Court Centre where adult continuing education classes are taught. And with construction funding appropriations from the state being limited, FGCU officials have said they are pressed for classroom and laboratory space on the main campus.
Before he was a member on the Board of Governors, Kitson confirmed he had been in some discussions with the school about a potential FGCU presence at Babcock once the town developed. The focus was for small, research space potentially, but there were never any campus or satellite campus discussions.
“I do think there could be a presence of FGCU at Babcock,” Kitson said.
Meanwhile, Western Michigan University has a growing presence in Charlotte County now offering unique, 4-year programming in aviation.
The Board of Governors has no control over that, and Florida’s public universities are not expanding into other states, according to Kitson.
From improving fouryear graduation rates, to keeping retention rates strong and education affordable, Kitson said the board’s focus is on Florida universities.
As far as FGCU, Kitson said he is “proud and pleased” with the direction they are headed based on the speed of growth at the main campus; where the focus should remain right now.
For students from the five-county area who want to go to a local university, he said, “FGCU is a fantastic opportunity.”
Kitson also serves as chair of the Florida Chamber of Commerce.