Higher education is one of the few high points in Southwest Florida’s battered commercial construction industry as private colleges build to keep up with the demand from students seeking to reinvent themselves for today’s job market.
The most visible sign of the trend is Keiser College, which is putting up a 60,000-square-foot building that will serve as its new campus at The Forum, a mixed-use development between State Road 82 and Colonial Boulevard east of Interstate 75.
When it opens this summer, the new campus will be able to accommodate increased enrollment the school expects from an occupational therapy program and other recently added areas of study.
Keiser currently has 300 students in a building it’s been leasing on Colonial Boulevard since coming to Fort Myers in 2010.
Also coming on line this year is a new Hodges University building at its Fort Myers campus at Colonial and Metro Parkway. That building will accommodate 20 more classrooms and a student union.
Art Keiser, chancellor of Keiser University, said local job markets typically drive demand for more education.
For example, he said, because of Southwest Florida’s large population of older people, “This campus is heavily focused on health care and meeting the requirements of health care.”
Keiser keeps its eye on what’s needed, Keiser said. “We sat down and talked to Lee Memorial” about what areas would be best. Now there are programs in diagnostic medical technology and radiological technology and the school just got approved in December for an occupational therapy program.
Joe Turner, public relations coordinator for Hodges University, said health care is the most popular area of study there too, but that security is second place and growing fast.
“The technology is growing by leaps and bounds,” he said. “Cyber security is a huge hot button right now.”
Hodges keeps a close eye on employment trends, Turner said. “We like to listen to what the business community’s looking for.”
Now, he said, the question is, “Who are the people who are being hired to make sure their systems aren’t hacked?”