Most people know Ava Parker in her role as president of Palm Beach State College. She took time out of her busy schedule to talk about how PBSC plans to meet student needs going forward and what higher education can do.
Q: Before we discuss your expectations for post-pandemic higher education, how is the search going for Boca Raton campus provost Dr. Bernadette Russell, who just retired?
A: We are so sorry to see her go. Dr. Russell did a wonderful job, and her shoes will be hard to fill. We’re engaged in the process now and anticipate in mid-March we’ll have a selection.
Q: Timing is always important. What made you reach out to do an interview now?
A: We want people who lost jobs to be aware they can gain another skill and gain employment. We lost people who worked in an industry that won’t come back or will come back slowly. We have rapid credentialing programs, most accessible by remote so students can live anywhere. https://www.palmbeachstate.edu/rapid-credentialing/
Q: You took part in the Florida Power & Light donation of $1 million to buy more laptops at several colleges. Is this a one off, or will you continue partnering to help students buy laptops.
A: For folks in rapid credentialing, you can keep the laptop, so if you don’t have a computer, don’t let that stop you.
Q: What other changing employment needs are you seeing out there?
A: We’re focused on providing high-quality academic experiences that respond to post-pandemic needs and careers, more in health sciences. We are seeing if we have to expand those offerings. In the same way, for technology, cybersecurity and software. We want to make sure we’re keeping pace.
Q: Were you always in class on all five campuses or did you have to pivot to online learning?
A: We stopped one week in the spring to refigure what classes could be remote or in-person safely. Since last spring, we slowly increased face to face. Some are remote, some live on computer and some hybrid. All the paramedic education is in the public safety complex in Lake Worth [their main campus] We did that first.
Q: Are most students from public schools, and did you coordinate with the school district?
A: We do get kids from public, private and home-schooled areas. But because the school district reported some students have been lost, that impacts our enrollment. We won’t have as many students from our local high schools.
Q: Will a student who didn’t graduate still be able to go to PBSC now? Or will that short- circuit their career plans?
A: We don’t offer a GED, but students can come to us without a high school diploma, as long as they can pass certain tests. The difference is that students without a diploma don’t qualify for financial aid. That becomes a problem.
Q: Do you want to announce anything new?
A: We launched the Dr. Barbara Carey-Shuler Cross Cultural Equity Institute and the Center for Excellence in Engineering Technology. We will study our data to see why there are differences in retention and graduation rates to help eradicate disparities.
Q: How many students did you have on your Boca campus on the Florida Atlantic University campus. Do you have room to grow?
A: We had 8,000 students and lost students during the pandemic, but hope they will be back. There is no plan to move the Boca campus. We feel the partnership with FAU is important.
By Marci Shatzman