Spotlight On: Ava Parker, President, Palm Beach State College

What are the most popular programs for the college?

As a state college, 60% of our students come here to earn an Associate in Arts (A.A.) degree and transfer to our bachelor’s programs or to a university bachelor’s program, most frequently in the state. Most of our students want to transfer to Florida Atlantic University or the University of Central Florida. Florida International University and the University of Florida are also top choices.

In our A.A. pathway, many students want to go into business. Our entrepreneurship A.A. and bachelor’s degree tracks are popular, as is getting the business foundation needed to transfer to a university’s program.

Another popular area is health sciences. Many of our students are the first in their families to go to college, so for them, they are thinking about where they have seen people succeed, which people have improved their economic condition because of their chosen profession. Many of our students go into health sciences because that is an area where they can always find a job. The fields that are popular include dental hygiene, nursing, ophthalmic medical technology, respiratory care and radiography. Those are Associate in Science degree programs that many of our students see as opportunities to move from a lower socioeconomic status to the middle class. Most years, 100% of our ophthalmic graduates are placed right away, including at the Bascom Palmer Eye Institute, where we have a tremendous partnership. Our respiratory care graduates are picked right up once they pass their national boards, as are the radiography and dental hygiene graduates. And of course, our longest waiting list is for nursing. We are a sought-after solution for students, and also hospitals and doctors’ offices, because they understand that our program is rigorous and turns out great nurses. We also have bachelor’s programs in nursing and cardiopulmonary sciences for nurses and respiratory therapists who want to advance.

Our fire, law enforcement and corrections academies are also very popular. Many of our citizens rely on these programs as the primary route to entering those public safety fields.

How does the college help students update skills to transfer to other institutions? 

Our bachelor’s degree programs are a fast lane. When I shake hands with students who are graduating with our bachelor’s degrees, most of them are in their 30s. They are folks who already have a job, and they found their way to us because they were sitting at work, and there was an HR announcement about a job opportunity that required a bachelor’s degree.

We are ideal for those people because they can continue to work at their jobs, and they can come to us in the evenings or attend online to earn those additional credentials. We also can do that at a reasonable cost.

How are your trade programs structured?

Regarding our trade programs, we are the workforce solution for adults in Palm Beach County. We see that as a hallmark of what we do as an institution for people who enjoy working with their hands, or people who want a shorter term of study and come out ready for work. We have long waiting lists for many of our trade certificate programs, which prepare students to become welders, HVAC technicians, machinists, low voltage technicians, electricians, automotive, diesel and marine service technicians as well as cosmetologists and barbers. Our Engineering Technology and Electrical Power Technology A.S. degree programs are producing much-needed technicians to support the manufacturing, aerospace and electrical power generation industries. In fact, graduates of PBSC trade programs can be found throughout the county, contributing to its growth and innovation.

How is COVID-19 shaping the educational landscape?

I am concerned every day about students withdrawing. Our spring break was the first week of March, and I recall having the first conversation with my leadership team about us preparing for COVID-19. I never would have guessed that a month later most of my staff would be working from home, as well as all of our instruction happening remotely. My biggest worry, because we were able to successfully transfer most of our programs to a remote format, was related to our firefighter and police academies, because our instructors, who are first responders out there at work dealing with the situation, were not available to instruct our students. It was also considered a liability to have our Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) program students out there in the hospitals doing their clinical rounds, as well as our nursing students. The hardest thing has been stressing to our students to remain focused on their academic trajectory. Some of them did not have the devices to actually make the transition, so we had to go and look throughout the college for every laptop available for our students to check out, because it is really difficult to do your homework from your phone.

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