In light of the Great Recession, recent statistics have shown that the higher education industry in South Florida has overtaken construction as one of the region's greatest economic powers — both as a workforce training tool and as its own stand-alone industry.
For example, the University of Miami is the Miami-Dade County's second-largest private employer. And as Michael Vasquez at the Miami Herald says, higher education is generally in greater demand during any prolonged economic slump.
And combined with the Broward district, the two counties have hundreds of thousands of students pursuing undergraduate and graduate degrees. And as the local colleges employs well over 40,000 people.
The University of Miami should probably thank its large healthcare packages for a payroll boost of over 13,800 employees since 2007. This boost has seen the institution pass the size of the workforces of companies such as Publix, American Airlines, and Florida Power & Light Company.
This represents a critical mass of higher learning that rivals many other U.S. cities, writes Vasquez.
Joe Natoli, UM's chief financial officer, said:
"We weathered the economic storm pretty well.
"We didn't have significant layoffs."
Florida International University has also seen a rise in enrollment and, with that, importance. The institution ranks among the 25 largest public universities in the nation. South Florida's college enrollment holds its own against many competing metropolitan areas, however the school still plans to add an additional 10,000 students over the next five years.
While in the past the Florida schools have seen large numbers of graduates leave the state once their studies are over, this has begun to change.
Frank Nero, President/CEO of the Beacon Council, Miami-Dade County's economic development partnership, said:
"I don't think we want to be educating people for New York, Boston, and Atlanta.
"That's exactly what's going on."
South Florida's colleges have been able to provide an economic jolt in a number of ways: there is the increased earning power graduates enjoy after obtaining degrees, there are the thousands of residents employed directly by institutions, and there are also the outside vendors required to keep large-scale campuses up and running — from food service providers to computer technicians, writes Vasquez.
"Combine all of those impacts and it's easy to see how the economic impact of colleges in South Florida soars well into the billions of dollars."