Despite the lingering recession, Keiser University at Lakewood Ranch and 14 other Florida campuses have prospered during the economic downturn.
The Lakewood Ranch campus, where health care and culinary arts are the most popular offerings, has an enrollment of 1,000 students. Statewide, Keiser has about 18,000 students.
Arthur Keiser, who founded the university that bears his name in 1977, calls it a "counter-cyclical" phenomenon of workers who can’t find jobs returning to the classroom.
It’s the same reason community colleges and many universities are full, he said.
Anthony Knapp, a 34-year-old Sarasota resident, wants to reinvent himself by studying radiological technology.
“I was a real estate appraiser. As the market went down, so did the job,” Knapp said.
Keiser has a philosophy of not only preparing students for the workforce, but rehearsing them for the business culture.
“We try to mirror the work place and have a professional atmosphere on campus. Healthcare students are in scrubs, business students are in shirt and tie,” said new campus President Todd Pearson.
Knapp likes the get-down-to-business aspect of the university.
He is not only making business contacts, but getting experience in clinical rotations, which could be viewed in a sense as job interviews, Knapp said.
Michele Morgan, former campus president, has been promoted to vice chancellor, and now has responsibility for not only the Lakewood Ranch campus, 6151 Lake Osprey Drive, but for campuses in Fort Myers and Lakeland as well.
Pearson served as president of Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in St. Louis, prior to relocating to the Manatee-Sarasota area.
No big changes are planned, but Keiser officials are sifting through potential opportunities, Pearson said.
“The campus is already well-connected to the community, Pearson said, citing the Lakewood Ranch Business Alliance, Chambers of Commerce in Manatee and Sarasota counties, as well as having articulation agreements with USF Sarasota-Manatee and State College of Florida Manatee-Sarasota.
In addition to American students getting acclimated to the workplace at Keiser, students from Shanghai, China, are beginning to attend the career-focused school.
“We’re setting up a branch campus in Shanghai,” where all courses are offered in Mandarin and English, Keiser said. About 11 of those students are now studying at Keiser’s Florida campuses, although none have yet arrived at Lakewood Ranch.
The Chinese students get an opportunity to not only earn a business degree, but to work on their English proficiency, and gain a better understanding of the workforce and culture in America, Keiser said.
Keiser described campuses in China as crowded, but the curriculum as being very good.
It took 12 years of working with the Ministry of Education in Shanghai to open a branch in that country, Keiser said. “I’ve been going back and forth at least once a year to China since 1998,” he said.
Keiser sees the international expansion as a natural outgrowth of the global economy.
In his 12 years of travels to China, he has seen the streets change from being filled with bicycles to having so many cars that drivers with odd-numbered plates are allowed to drive one day and those with even numbers on another.
Keiser’s Chinese enrollment in the United States is expected to grow by 45 in September, with a goal of having 200 by the year 2012. The expansion also makes economic sense for Keiser because the students are paying customers.
Kimberly Dale, Keiser’s regional director of media and public relations, said the students will likely have an opportunity to visit a number of campuses to get a better understanding of how life differs from city to city.
Keiser’s business model works in a good or bad economy because, unlike public institutions, Keiser is not dependent on state funding, Keiser said.
Tuition at Keiser costs $6,688 a semester. The cost is affordable to the students who make the commitment to a career-based education, he said.