Back to School

New College of Florida - Sarasota

Stopped behind a school bus recently gave us an appropriate moment to reflect on how very fortunate we are to live in a region that takes education very seriously at all levels.

Families with school-age children can look forward to enrolling them in one of Florida’s highest-rated public school systems. The Sarasota County school district has been designated an “A” district by the Florida Department of Education, with 95 percent of its elementary schools and 84 percent of its high schools receiving “A” or “B” grades in 2009. Its graduation rate is at an all-time high of 86 percent; and even though we are rarely thought of in the same breath as Florida’s better-known college towns, our college-bound seniors have no less than 15 institutions of higher learning to choose from within Sarasota, Manatee and Charlotte Counties.

Many of our public and private schools, colleges and universities are routinely ranked among the nation’s best. U.S. News & World Report, for example, consistently ranks Pine View School for the Gifted among the nation’s very best public high schools. The school also ranks 1st in the State of Florida both for mean SAT scores and mean ACT scores.

Just last Tuesday, U.S. News’ 2011 edition of America’s Best Colleges hit the newsstands. It ranks Sarasota’s New College of Florida among the top five of all public liberal arts colleges in the U.S. For the sixth consecutive year! Offering apologies to Harvard, Yale and Princeton, Parade Magazine—in its August 22nd edition— ranks New College among the top 7 colleges where you can get an Ivy League education at a public university price.

Ironically, surrounded by all this academic excellence, by the time many families move here the quality of the schools their children will attend is no longer an issue. Many of their offspring have already finished high school, gone off to college or departed the nest. Happily, with more time to pursue your own learning goals, you too are faced with an exceptional range of choices. So wide is the variety, in fact, that describing the full scope of educational opportunities available to the adult learner in Southwest Florida vastly defies our allotted space. So here, just a sampling:

Needless-to-say, each of our local colleges and universities offers a dedicated curriculum specifically geared to the adult learner. Ringling College of Art & Design, for example, offers non-credit workshops and courses in art history, fine arts, design, digital media, illustration, painting, photography, printmaking, sculpture and much more. Fall classes start in late September. (

Likewise the University of South Florida—Sarasota/Manatee—through its Lifelong Learning Academy—offers a variety of non-credit, university-level courses primarily grounded in the liberal arts. Its upcoming fall session begins in early October. (

The State College of Florida’s Institute for Continuing and Community Education—with campuses in Bradenton, Lakewood Ranch and Venice—offers courses for both personal enrichment and professional certification. Classes are offered in art, music, writing, dance, foreign languages and cooking. A significant number of licensure and continuing education courses are offered in real estate, insurance, child care, private investigation, boating and more. (

Edison State College, at its Punta Gorda campus, offers courses at its Lifelong Learning Institute. Beginning in October, there are lectures, book clubs, educational field trips and classes in gardening, finances, estate planning and more. (

Meanwhile The Longboat Key Education Center is a great example of an institution whose total focus is the adult learner. Located midway up the Key, the center provides education and recreation for residents and seasonal visitors to Longboat Key and neighboring areas in Sarasota and Manatee counties. It offers more than 100 courses, a lecture series, a performing arts series, one-day workshops and guided day-long trips to points of interest throughout Southwest Florida. Courses and programs appeal to many interests and range from yoga, tai chi, and bridge to opera, foreign affairs, and book clubs. All courses are non-credit, and there are no prerequisites for admission. (

Depending on what appeals to you, virtually each of our various arts organizations offer workshops, programs and other learning opportunities tied to their various artistic disciplines. The Venice Theater, for example, offers theater programs and workshops for students of all ages. ( Similarly, The John & Mable Ringing Museum of Art offers a number of programs designed to improve your appreciation of art, art history, the museum and its collections. (

As Will Durant, the prolific writer, historian and philosopher once said: “Sixty years ago I knew everything; now I know nothing; education is a progressive discovery of our own ignorance.” We couldn’t have said it better. It’s never too late to go back to school.

* Photo courtesy of New College of Florida’s website:

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