Officials give OK for WMU 'takeoff' in Florida

contact: Cheryl Roland
| WMU News
Map of Florida with superimposed W logo.

WMU plans to offer programs in Charlotte and Hillsborough counties.

KALAMAZOO, Mich.—Florida's Commission for Independent Education has approved two provisional licenses for Western Michigan University, paving the way for WMU to offer aviation and several other high-profile academic programs in Charlotte and Hillsborough counties.

The commission approved a provisional license for WMU to operate a Florida campus at 26300 Airport Road in Punta Gorda. A second provisional license will allow the University to operate a campus at 9445 Camden Field Parkway in Riverview. The Riverview location already is home to a law school—the WMU Cooley Law School—which is affiliated with the University.

The license approvals provide a green light for WMU, Charlotte County, the Punta Gorda Airport and Florida SouthWestern State College to move forward with plans to launch pilot training and aviation maintenance technology programs—each leading to a bachelor's degree. Discussions on that initiative have been underway since 2014.

'The start of a wonderful partnership'

"This is the start of a fantastic future and a wonderful partnership between Western Michigan University and the communities of southwest Florida," said Bill Truex, chairman of the Charlotte County Board of Commissioners after hearing the news. "I've been so impressed, and it has been such a pleasure to work with the WMU professional staff, administration and board of trustees. They are all truly committed to this initiative."

In addition to aviation, the two provisional licenses make it possible for a number of other WMU graduate and undergraduate programs to be offered. Included on the list authorized for each site are several from WMU's nationally recognized health and human services disciplines, which could grow quickly through new research opportunities and enhanced clinical capacity. Other in-demand fields would be offered as well. Degree programs in physician assistant and interdisciplinary health services could be offered through the Punta Gorda campus, for instance, while degree programs in vision rehabilitation therapy and engineering management are potential offerings in Riverview.

According to University officials, there is a significant match between the communities' needs and interests and the University's particular areas of nationally recognized academic expertise. The lure of that match was enhanced by the fact that the area is already home to a large population of WMU alumni."

"The more we looked at this area, the more we became aware of the kind of synergy that will make this a strong and long-lasting partnership," says WMU President John M. Dunn. "Our alumni and University supporters are thrilled that WMU will become an economic and cultural force in the area, and we've been pleased with the foresight and commitment to economic development that local officials have exhibited throughout the process."

Final approval for WMU program offerings must come from the Higher Learning Commission, which is the University's accreditation body. Once such approvals are obtained, WMU and its Florida partners in the aviation effort will work out final details for those degree programs, and the University will move forward with additional programs as the populations' needs and interests dictate.

"This is an exciting project that will allow us to work with our Florida partners to provide the strategic resources that will make an enormous impact on this region," says Dr. Dawn Gaymer, WMU associate provost for Extended University Programs. "WMU has great depth and breadth of research and academic expertise, and we've all been very thoughtful about selecting programs to bring to the area, letting data from market research and industry forecasting drive decisions about workforce development."

Aviation and health care are two industries with incredible potential in Florida and across the country, Gaymer notes. WMU already operates a set of highly respected aviation programs at its College of Aviation in Battle Creek. That campus is about to undertake a $20 million expansion to meet the demand for aviation professionals that is expected to skyrocket. With current industry professionals retiring and the FAA predicting that flight travel will double by 2032, the industry is faced with the need for more than a million highly skilled new professionals by 2034. 

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