Last Updated: 12:26 p.m. p.m.
As bleak a year as it’s been, for Palm Coast, it’s also been the Year of the Universities.
In October, the University of North Florida and Palm Coast launched a partnership that will result in a UNF satellite campus in Town Center by fall. Today, in a second coup for the city and its innovation district, Jacksonville University and Palm Coast announced a joint partnership that will open a JU campus in town–the university’s first-ever expansion outside of Jacksonville in its 86-year history–and enroll 150 to 200 full-time students within 24 months. The focus will be health-care education, and more specifically, nursing.
Both initiatives were in the works for well over a year and both have the imprint of Palm Coast Mayor Milissa Holland, whose behind-the-scenes negotiations over the past two years and network of connections in higher education and in Tallahassee helped foster and solidify the plans. Rep. Paul Renner, who represents Flagler County, was key in steering Jacksonville University toward Palm Coast and Holland, when the university was looking for the right fit for expansion, university officials told FlaglerLive. Renner was also key in shepherding the UNF deal.
The city’s contribution is no small part of the plans, and is significantly more generous than the UNF MedNext contribution.
Palm Coast pledged $1.5 million for the UNF MedNext expansion. It is pledging an equal one-time amount for the JU campus plus a zero-percent, three-year, $1 million loan from the Town Center Community Redevelopment Agency (the city’s enterprise zone that locks in Town Center tax revenue for reinvestment there). The loan is essentially a grant: it will be forgiven at the rate of $27,778 a month as long as Jacksonville University proceeds with its plans over the next 36 months. If the university aborts its program, the city would be due the balance of the loan not yet forgiven, but not funds already allocated.
The proposals are not a done deal, but close: The Palm Coast City Council will discuss them and possibly ratify them on Tuesday, though the forgivable loan–an additional $1 million contribution in all but name–is the first of its kind for the city and may draw particular scrutiny. The money from the straight $1.5 million contribution is available in the city’s reserves, City Manager Matt Morton said. Holland, council members Nick Klufas and Eddie Branquinho have been strong supporters of the UNF MedNext initiative and voted for the innovation district. They’re expected to support the new initiative come Tuesday. Newly-seated council members Ed Danko and Victor Barbosa have not yet taken official positions on the innovation district.
“This partnership cements Palm Coast as a destination for high-quality healthcare: for students, for employers and for our residents, and builds on the existing degree pipeline from Flagler Palm Coast High School’s medical flagship and offerings at Daytona State College and Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University,” Holland is quoted as saying in a release. “Jacksonville University is an agile, market-responsive partner with a demonstrated track record of high-quality student applicants, student retention, strong employer relationships and integration with other educational partners in the region.”
The university would use $1.7 million for salaries, $550,000 for operations, and just under $200,000 for technology.
Twenty to 30 staff and faculty positions would be created ahead of an expected enrollment of 50 as early as next fall. The city’s projection of 15 full-time and 10 part-time local UJ employees translates to a personnel budget of $1.6 million.
“These projections are conservative and depend upon receipt of investment funding and the speed that facilities and classroom space can be completed,” a summary analysis of the plan states. The city projects 300 graduates by the end of the fifth year, with average wages of $60,000 a year and an annual payroll of $18 million–assuming the graduates are employed locally, as a number of them inevitably would be.
Before moving into ist own facility, the school is projecting a need for 6,000 square feet, which it has found at the Chiumento building in Town Center, near City Hall. “Ultimately, a larger more permanent campus home in Town Center will be sought to allow for expansion of our programs offered and enrollment growth,” the university says.
“Several of the advanced programs are not offered by any in-person institution in the region and those that are offered have yet to meet all needs,” the JU analysis states. Those include:
• Accelerated Bachelors in Nursing (an undergraduate program aimed at non-nursing majors or those with current degrees, and includes pathway programs to graduate nursing degrees).
• Graduate Masters of Science in Nursing, including advanced and specialized programs.
• Masters in Speech Language Pathology.
• Clinical Mental Health Counseling.
UNF and Daytona State College in Palm Coast and Daytona Beach have their own health care programs. Jacksonville University says its programs will not duplicate what’s in place. “The programs JU intends to launch in Palm Coast are not offered anywhere else in the region, or are not offered at a scale to adequately meet demand,” its FAQ on the campus expansion states. “Our programs work in conjunction with and fill in the gaps for the coordinated higher education providers Daytona State College, Embry Riddle Aeronautical University, Bethune Cookman, and UNF. The future prospects presented by Flagler County’s growth and current needs leave room for all representatives in higher education in the region.”
“This partnership builds on Jacksonville University’s proven strategy of attracting top-notch students, educating and training them in cutting-edge fields, and connecting them with local employers so they stay in the region,” Jacksonville University President Tim Cost said. “With demand for healthcare professionals expected to rise 14 percent in the next decade, and a lack of local graduate programs devoted to educating advanced specialized healthcare professionals, this investment comes at a critical time. We appreciate the support of the City of Palm Coast—Mayor Holland, City Manager Morton and the City Council—as we work toward the shared goal of delivering high-quality healthcare services in Flagler and Volusia counties.”
Jacksonville University is a private, non-profit school on 260 acres off University Boulevard North in Jacksonville. It had a fall 2019 enrollment of just under 3,000 full and part-time undergraduates and 1,236 graduate students from 46 states and 52 countries. About 60 percent of students are Floridians, 62 percent are women, and barely over half are white, with Blacks, Hispanics and Asians accounting for a third of the student body. The school offers a string of certifications, undergraduate and graduate programs, including doctorates in nursing, business administration and occupational therapy. The the top declared majors in undergraduate or graduate programs are in nursing. The school also has a leading program in kinesiology (the study of body movements), aviation and flight operations, business and marine science.