Jim Richey
Jim Richey – Eastern Florida State College

Accelerating the pace of change at an institution that is over 50 years old could be compared to turning an aircraft carrier. But surprisingly, with four engines which can work independently, a modern carrier is pretty nimble for its size, and so a college can be with the right skipper at the helm.

To the casual observer Dr. James Richey’s impact has focused on transitioning and rebranding Brevard Community College into Eastern Florida State College (EFSC).  But for Richey and the college’s leadership, it begins with structuring their organization to be as responsive and cognizant of market trends and demands as are the business sectors which EFSC is preparing its graduates to lead.

“Historically, once a plan for a new program is introduced at a college, the feasibility studies are completed, the curriculum is developed, you attain approval from Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) and test classes are run. So much time has elapsed by the actual launch, the program has lost a lot of its relevance. The pace of change in both knowledge and the markets is simply moving too fast for us to continue at the rate we have operated in the past,” Richey said.

Actions That Speak Loudly
Demonstrating this isn’t just platitudes, Richey has launched a series of major new initiatives at EFSC which includes creating 27 new academic programs in the fast-growth career fields of computer technology, business and healthcare. In addition, they launched nine bachelor degree tracks in those fields with more than 600 students now enrolled.  Recently he announced a $75 million expansion plan to build new academic buildings on the Melbourne campus, which will turn the site into their flagship campus.

When he found out that the school had no career planning and development center, he started one that has served more than 35,000 students. He has aggressively developed partnerships with companies in dynamic growth areas such as Melbourne International Airport and Harris Corporation. In order to enhance the collegiate experience, he directed a facelift and the construction of new athletic facilities and student activity programs.

Already a 2013 study conducted through the Florida College System, of which EFSC is a member, showed the college contributes nearly $1.1 billion annually to the Brevard and East-Central Florida economies. A large portion comes from graduates who use their earnings, spending and education to contribute to the success of area businesses and industry and boost the regional economy as a result. In addition, EFSC graduates also earn more money, the study found. Associate degree graduates go on to earn an average of $43,100 annually, while bachelor degree graduates earn an average of $61,800 annually.

Envisioning the Future
“I think it was a major strategic advantage that I was here and understood the college, both the people and the needs, before I took over.  We have saved years by having someone with institutional knowledge filling this position,” Richey observed.

“Fortunately my administration has been able to have a very proactive vision of connecting students to viable job opportunities. We have engaged with the business community to find out what the need is and have created programs that reflect what they say they need or will need.  That means creating opportunities that didn’t exist in this community, with a high quality faculty, one of the highest graduation rates in the country for what we do, and we’re affordable. They are real programs with real opportunities at the end of them.

“We routinely survey to get the pulse of what is going on in the market, not just now but in the future. Port Canaveral is moving towards a cargo focus and we have just introduced a logistics degree. The airport is another example – we aren’t guessing; we’re responding to the talent needs of these industry sectors. As a lawyer, I read the Florida Statutes and clearly that is what we are supposed to do.

“Our Direct Connect program with UCF and Florida Tech are still in place for students that continue outside our degree and program focus of business, technology and healthcare. We’ve created a lot of programs that can lead to genuine opportunities with a substantial financial end game, which is a message that we’re still working to get out.”

This article appears in the December 2014 issue of SpaceCoast Business.
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