Miami’s Public Research University

Opportunity Miami
Opportunity Miami
Published in
4 min readApr 6


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This is the April 4, 2023 edition of the Opportunity Miami newsletter written by Matt Haggman, which we send every Tuesday. Click here to subscribe to get our weekly updates in your inbox.

Featured Content

Guest Essay: FIU President Kenneth Jessell
Read his essay on the comprehensive strategy for talent development and the school’s next 50 years

In 1862, as the Civil War raged, President Abraham Lincoln signed the Morrill Land-Grant Act. Amid war, Lincoln was also thinking about the future. The legislation sought to drive economic growth and spur social mobility by providing federal funding for states to establish universities focused on engineering, agriculture, and science.

It resulted in a revolution in higher education, producing public research universities across the U.S. The University of Illinois was launched in 1867, the University of California, Berkeley in 1868, Purdue University in 1869, Texas A&M in 1871, and on it went. All told, including a second Morrill Land-Grant Act passed in 1890, it resulted in more than 100 land-grant universities. The Morrill Act and the universities it produced have been called “the heart of American innovation.”

Fundamental to the entire effort was the belief that public research universities — institutions that are accessible to the community and provide professionally applicable education and research — are critical to our future.

Of course, when this wave swept across the U.S., it didn’t impact Miami because there was no Miami. The City of Miami wasn’t founded until 1896, and cities like Miami Beach or Hialeah weren’t born until 1915 and 1925. Instead, it would be more than a century after the Morrill Act that Miami had its own public research university.

Yet, Miami — ever the startup city — is catching up in a big way and in its own way.

Florida International University opened its doors in 1972 as Miami’s public research university. In its first 50 years, FIU has risen to become the fifth-largest public research university in the country. With a student body of more than 56,000, it also ranks as the most diverse public research university: 61 percent of students are Hispanic, 13 percent Black, 4 percent Asian or Pacific Islander, and 7 percent from other minority groups, according to FIU.

But now, as Miami continues to cement its role as a center of innovation and economic vitality, what will FIU’s next 50 years look like? As we think about Miami’s economic future, FIU’s role as the community’s public research university is critical.

With that in mind, FIU President Kenneth Jessell authored the latest essay in our ongoing series with Opportunity Miami’s Academic Leaders Council, “The Class of 2040: Essays on the next-generation workforce.”

You can read it here.

Read more about the vision for FIU’s future here

Cities around the world are feverishly working to prepare and build workforces for the future. With a population across Miami-Dade County in which 54 percent were born outside the U.S., Greater Miami has the opportunity to build a uniquely diverse, skilled regional workforce, unlike any region in North America.

Ideas on how to do it range widely. Efforts include more non-traditional educational offerings like bootcamps and certificate programs. Others are exploring recruiting established educational institutions from elsewhere to Miami; indeed, Northeastern University recently announced a Miami outpost. Still, others hope to start new educational institutions from scratch, as this April Fools Tweet thread by Dave Fontenot mused about.

But, whatever the combination, and it could include everything mentioned above, we know two things. One, FIU, as Miami’s public research university, will be a key part of the equation. And two, it will include the robust educational ecosystem of colleges, universities, and public schools already in place across Greater Miami.

President Jessell’s essay is the fifth in our series with leaders at the helm of Miami’s major educational institutions. The Academic Leaders Council, which is part of Opportunity Miami, is composed of the presidents of the University of Miami, Miami Dade College, Florida International University, Florida Memorial University, St. Thomas University, and Barry University, along with the Superintendent of Miami-Dade County Public Schools.

You can read previous essays by the University of Miami President Julio Frenk, Miami Dade College President Madeline Pumariega, Florida Memorial University President Jaffus Hardrick, and Barry University President Mike Allen. Next up is St. Thomas University President Dave Armstrong. Together, each essay outlines the specific priorities for each institution while providing a collective vision for our talent development future.

On a separate note, for climate tech entrepreneurs, applications are now being accepted for the Verizon Climate Resilience Prize. The prize was announced at Aspen Ideas: Climate and the deadline is April 23. If you’re an entrepreneur scaling technology for a climate-resilient future, you should check it out. You can learn more here.

As ever, we would love to hear what’s on your mind. You can email us at If you were forwarded this newsletter, you can subscribe here. We also invite you to subscribe to YouTube and follow us on social media channels.