07/19/2013 01:12 pm ET Updated Sep 18, 2013

Colleges: Economic Engines of the New Economy

As concerned Americans and Floridians, we hope that our tax dollars are used in the most effective and efficient manner possible, and that sentiment is being heard not only here in Florida but across the country. As President of Gulf Coast State College, preserving our conservative attitude towards budgets is of the utmost importance, but of equal importance is also providing the highest quality instruction, active learning opportunities, and outstanding student-faculty interaction for our students. We, along with other institutions in the state and country, continue to fuel the economic recovery with new certificates, diplomas, associate degrees, and new bachelor's degrees at community colleges that are focused on getting jobs. Our institution, like many in the country, is committed to give the most value to students and the region we serve. We are proud of our mission that focuses on students, the community and economic development.

To serve our community and region at a higher level, we made a bold move to offer four-year degrees at our community college, and changed our name to Gulf Coast State College, but keeping the open access mission of a community college. We were uniquely affected by the recession in this region of Northwest Florida: tourism dropped, high foreclosures and construction came to a stand still.

So, we decided to broaden our scope to offer more workforce bachelor's degrees, especially in healthcare and technology. We deeply felt that our college, similar to many across the county, are economic drivers of their region. Now we offer several bachelor degrees that are workforce oriented, such as nursing and digital media where there are jobs. Community and state colleges have helped with an improved economy by building a world class workforce. We must continually invest in community and state colleges in this country to stay competitive globally.

A postsecondary education is worth more financially, too. Studies show that an associate's degree is worth an additional half-million dollars beyond what a high school graduate will earn, and those with only a high school diploma are twice as likely to be unemployed as those with a bachelor's degree. In addition, incomes one year after graduation increase 50% or more for students who earn an associate degree or a credential relative to the incomes of a high school graduate.

Colleges like Gulf Coast not only add value to individual students and their families, but add value to the economic prosperity of the state and country. Florida Taxwatch, a non-partisan research institute, has commented that "the increased number of graduates in 2015-16 is projected to add over 33 billion to Florida's economy and provide economic activity that leads to the creation of 250,000 jobs." They also note that "almost two-thirds (65%) of the fastest growing jobs will be in occupations that require the types of postsecondary education at the heart of the Florida College System's mission." We are actively supporting Florida's economic recovery by providing education and training for 21st century jobs while also helping people realize their hopes and dreams.