Florida Polytechnic and Florida Southern

Two small colleges in one Florida town–Lakeland–are as dissimilar as the U.S. Naval Academy and St. John’s College in Annapolis: Florida Polytechnic University and Florida Southern College. Florida Polytechnic opened in 2012, becoming the twelfth institution in the Florida public university system; Florida Southern is a private, loosely Methodist-affiliated, liberal arts college established in 1883, the oldest private college in Florida.

Florida Polytechnic University

As its name implies, Florida Polytechnic focuses completely on STEM (science, technology, engineering, math), and its architecture and infrastructure reflect this focus. You can glimpse the ultramodern white exoskeleton of the Innovation, Science, and Technology (IST) Building driving Route 4 about an hour west of Orlando. IST houses the all-digital, bookless library as well as classrooms and offices. They’re nearing completion on a  95,000 square-foot Applied Research Center that will house labs, research, some offices, and a few classes. 

The two dorms on campus, four and six years old, can hold 750 students, a little over half the total enrollment. The model dorm room was spacious: two rooms, each with two beds and storage units, two sinks beside a closet for a washer and dryer, and one room with a door for both toilet and shower. Being the mother of a daughter who has already gone through college, I thought the bathroom situation was a poor set-up. Four people to a room, and only one can use the toilet or shower at a time? That’s when I asked what the male-female ratio was. Unsurprisingly, it’s 80 percent male. 

The Florida Poly Phoenix don’t have a football or basketball team, though esports are part of the culture and they’re launching a men’s lacrosse team. Intramural swimming is popular and accessible, with two pools on campus. New this year, the “scatter band” gives musicians a creative outlet even if they don’t march or perform at big athletic events.

The 1400 undergraduate and graduate students at Poly, about 92 percent Floridians, study STEM exclusively. The school added 25 professors for fall 2021. Florida publics continued to require standardized tests for last year’s applicants, and the incoming freshman class of 2020 had an average SAT of 1330/ACT of 30, with a 4.43 weighted GPA (the formula for this was not explained at the session I attended). Admissions officers look closely at math and science courses on the transcript.

Instead of majors and minors, Poly designates the bachelor’s program and concentration. Students must complete the math-heavy general education credits in the first year before pursuing the bachelor’s, though most leave one humanities course for junior year and one for senior year. All take an Introduction to STEM course so that they’ll know what it means to declare an area in which they’ll earn a B.S. Though it’s not possible to earn dual degrees, one can have dual concentrations.

ABET-accredited bachelor’s programs at Poly include Business Analytics & Data Science, Computer Engineering, Computer Science, Electrical Engineering, and Mechanical Engineering. Undergoing review: Cybersecurity Engineering, Engineering Mathematics, Engineering Physics, and Environmental Engineering. Students who earn a degree in one of the reviewed programs will get an accredited designation retroactively.

Florida Polytechnic University has much to offer to students who want to focus on STEM education and don’t mind being on a campus that hasn’t had time to develop long traditions. That newness is both a drawback and a draw–while they don’t have a huge football stadium or a legendary basketball coach, they do have central air conditioning in modern buildings (no moldy dorm rooms) and a half dozen futuristics labs, from robotics to nanotechnology to cyber gaming. It has a low price, even for out-of-state students (about $16K in-state, $33K out-of-state, including room and board), and allows stacking of scholarships. For someone who wants a strong STEM education, Florida Poly can fill the bill.

Florida Southern College

Florida Southern College is a private, loosely Methodist-affiliated, liberal arts college established in 1883, the oldest private college in Florida. It lies just to the west of Orlando in the center of the state in Lakeland. The campus has been named one of the most beautiful in the country for its architecture, landscaping, and lakeside location.

Architecture buffs visit the campus to see the world’s largest concentration of Frank Lloyd Wright architecture, dating to the 1940s and ‘50s. (Wright must have been a very short man–my 6’7” husband would need to duck under the covered circular pathway.) According to the plaque, the campus is “the only tangible example of his community planning ideas.”

Though FSC is a small liberal arts college, the Mocs (the water mocassin is their mascot) have a Division I e-sports team with their own space for gaming. It also offers STEM majors like applied math and statistics; biology, biotechnology; computer science with concentrations in AI and cybersecurity; and game design. The 2,500 undergraduates have over 70 majors to choose, plus 12 pre-professional pathways from dental to veterinary medicine. In their most recent brochure, FSC posted that 100 percent of their pre-law students were accepted into law school and 100 percenet of their nursing students were accepted into graduate school or placed in a job. (Note about these figures: It’s not clear if that’s 100 percent of all who applied or only those who responded to their survey–something you should question whenever a school shows a figure like that!)

The Florida Department of Education rated Florida Southern’s elementary education program the best in the state among private schools, and second among all private and public institutions in Florida. Education majors get 400 or more hours of clinical practice at the on-campus pre-school and elementary school. 

Florida Southern has a commitment to experiential education, or “engaged learning,” encouraging students to apply classroom learning in real-world settings. A partnership with Tiny Earth Initiative allows 100 percent of freshman biology students to conduct hands-on antibiotic research. All first-year students get assigned a faculty adviser who will help them map out their academic journey.  In addition, FSC makes three guarantees: 1) “you’ll land a professional internship,” 2) “you’ll travel the world,” and 3) “you’ll graduate in four years.” 

For more about Florida Southern, check out their website at www.flsouthern.edu. They are open again for in-person tours.

Polytech and Frank Lloyd Wright in Lakeland, FL