Partner News

Summer Spotlight Series: University of North Florida

Summer Spotlight Series: University of North Florida

The Summer Spotlight Series is in full swing and we have officially arrived at week four! This week, our university partner in the spotlight is: University of North Florida. 



University of North Florida (UNF) was founded in 1969 and opened its doors to 2,027 juniors in the fall of 1972. Today, UNF is organized into five colleges that offer more than 50 undergraduate degree programs and about 30 graduate-degree programs, with distinguished Flagship Programs in international business, coastal biology, nursing, nutrition, transportation and logistics and music.  

This week, we had the pleasure of speaking with Dr. Edythe Abdullah, Interim Dean of the Division of Continuing Education at University of North Florida. 



 Q: What is your hometown? 

A: Jacksonville is my hometown! I was born and raised here and graduated from William M. Raines High School. I've been here most of my life, except when I went to college and when I did a stint as a [university] president in another state.


Q: Tell us about your alma mater. What was your experience there as a student? 

A: I went to Valparaiso University in Valparaiso, Indiana and I really went there for a number of reasons. At that point in my life, I thought I wanted to be a pastor in a Lutheran church, so I went there because it was a Missouri Synod Lutheran-owned school and I could get that wonderful immersion experience.

But, in addition to that, I wanted a different experience than I had growing up. Growing up here in Jacksonville in the 60s and 70s, you really stayed within one community and your experiences outside of that community were very limited. So, I wanted something that was going to expand my horizons, give me an opportunity to travel and meet different people, and Valparaiso just seemed like the right place to go!  I got a high quality education—which was very important to me—and it offered the major and the student life experience that I wanted, so it was really the full package.


Q: What drew you to Earn Up and what makes you excited to be a part of the collaboration?

A: Most of my involvement with education has been focused on continuing education, adult education, or workforce development. My passion has always been providing access to higher education because I really understand how higher education can dramatically change both one’s personal life as well as generations after that. So, the fact that Earn Up focuses on increasing the number of students that have access to higher education really excites me. Earn Up is definitely the right initiative for the right time!


Q: Why is college attainment important to you?

A: College attainment is so important! If you look at the research over the last 10-15 years, everyone has been talking about the fact that you have to have some college experience if you want to earn a wage that is going to be a living wage or, even better, a wage that allows you to do things that are enriching to your life, enriching to your family’s life, allows you disposable income, etc. So, higher education is quite important. And, you know, we talk about the importance of economic development for communities and, if I remember correctly, studies have shown that for an economy to be viable and economically strong, you want a population where at least 26-30% of the workforce has some kind of higher education degree. So, having post-secondary education is critical, not only for the individual, but also for the community!


Q: What are some of UNF’s current initiatives or major focuses right now?

A: We are very much focused on shortening the length of time it takes for a student to graduate and that’s quite complex because 70% of our students work and go to school. It’s difficult to find ways to increase retention and also to accelerate learning and the ability to graduate, so those are big initiatives. We are really focusing on finding out how can we serve our students better so that they reach and attain their goals quicker and support the community. We are also very interested in advanced manufacturing, so there are a number of initiatives to support that, as well as information technology. We are really looking at how we can support the development of those industries by producing well-prepared students—who have critical thinking skills, writing skills, computing skills, etc.—for those areas. 

One other thing that I think is very important is that we are also very committed to study abroad and community and applied learning experiences. It’s very important for our students to see the wider and global community, and so the study abroad programs that we have are growing pretty dramatically. Our initiatives for applied research, where students learn how to apply what they’ve learned in a real-life situation, have also become another centerpiece of the university experience.


Q: What do you think sets UNF apart from other universities in the region?

A: I would have to say that something that definitely sets us apart is the fact that we have been given high national rankings from many different publications, from Princeton Review to U.S. News. But I also have to go back to the students because they are really the focus. We have small classes that put a lot of focus on building relationships with the students and ensuring the relevance of courses for the students. So what makes us different? We are a somewhat small regional university with very high standards for our students, both for entering our university as well as standards that will need to be met in the course of a student’s time at the university. We are very proud of the fact that, within all of the state university systems, we are ranked very high in terms of the number of students that receive high-wage, high-skilled jobs when they graduate.


If you are interested in learning more about the University of North Florida and the programs offered, click here.