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Online Tool Shows Job Outlook for Fla. College Programs

Students enrolling in Florida colleges have a new tool online to help them make more informed decisions about which school and which field of study to pick. The Smart College Choices Web application is a free tool that reports in-state employment rates and earnings potential for about 300 fields of study offered at Florida schools.

Soon it will be expanded to include the state’s public universities; currently, it covers the degree and certificate programs offered at all 28 colleges and career centers. For example, a search for ‘law enforcement’ shows that field has an 84 percent in-state employment rate, and officers can expect an average salary of about $43,000 dollars.

Susann Hayes is the mother of a high schooler and a middle schooler in Clay Co. She says the tool seems like an excellent way to approach higher ed pragmatically.

“While, as parents, we always want to tell our children, ‘Follow your heart and follow your soul and that’ll lead you to your career choice,’ unfortunately, at the end of the day, higher education is an investment of resources, very simply," she says.

The database is part of a new state law aiming to strengthen the cause-and-effect relationship between higher education and financial success. A co-sponsor of the law, incoming state senate president Don Gaetz says, Florida has been collecting post-graduation data for years, and the new Web tool simply makes it more accessible to the public.

He says the state owes it to its students to provide real, current data about job prospects “so that when they walk across the graduation stage and walk off that stage carrying a bunch of debt from their education, that they’ll be able to get a job and be able to contribute in society."

The site lets users search by program and college. It also allows users to download the entire data set as an Excel spreadsheet for sorting. Among the roughly 300 fields of study listed, the highest salary, of about $97,000, is for the electrical power technology program. The lowest listed, just over $18,000, is for the digital video fundamentals program. The data also show that both of those programs have tiny enrollment numbers, compared with the most popular degree, nursing, which has an average salary of about $51,000.

College System Chancellor Randy Hanna says, the data should be just one piece of the puzzle when it comes to students' choosing a college.

“They need to go behind this data and talk to the particular college, make sure it’s a great fit, make sure that the program is one that they’re very interested in," he says.

As of now, the data have some limitations. Some programs, like medical records transcribing, don’t have information available. And the employment statistics are only for jobs in the state of Florida. Gaetz says out-of-state data will be added soon.

By October, the department plans to add stats for Florida’s public universities. Then, it will notify all parents that the tool is available.

Click hereto use Smart College Choices.