A Message from Kathleen Plinske, President, Osceola, Lake Nona and Poinciana Campuses
I’d like to give a special shout out to those of you who have been involved in our “Got College?” work over the last several years. To everyone who has helped host one of our “Mock College” days for our elementary, middle and high school guests, or who has participated in one of our community events or scholarship workshops, or who has engaged in curriculum alignment efforts with teachers from the School District — thank you. Our efforts to increase the college-going rate in Osceola County have been recognized by the Chancellor of the Florida College System with a “Chancellor’s Best Practice Award.”
Osceola County has historically had one of the lowest college-going rates in the state of Florida. In 2010, Osceola County ranked 61st out of 67 counties in the state in terms of the percentage of graduating high school seniors who pursued post-secondary education.
Moreover, between 2004-2010 (the earliest data available from the state), Osceola County’s college-going rate had consistently lagged behind the state average by approximately 10 percentage points.
When taken in context with the overall educational attainment levels of Osceola County, these data are even more alarming.
According to the United States Census Bureau’s 2011-2015 American Community Survey, in Osceola County, only 27.6 percent of adults possess an associates degree or higher; 36.7 percent of adults in the state of Florida hold an associates degree or higher. This combination of facts is particularly troubling, particularly given the importance of post-secondary education in today’s economy. A recent study by Georgetown University reveals that of the 11.6 million jobs created nationally since the depths of the recession in 2008, only 80,000 of them were filled by individuals with only a high school diploma. This means that individuals with at least some college have captured more than 95 percent of the jobs created during the economic recovery. As such, for the future of Osceola County, it became obvious that there was both an economic and social imperative to work to increase the county’s college-going rate.
Valencia College, the School District of Osceola County and the Education Foundation of Osceola County organized a number of focus groups and community meetings in 2013 to better understand the barriers that were preventing students from attending college and to identify strategies to help students overcome those barriers. “Got College?” encompasses a number of initiatives that are designed to help students overcome the barriers that have historically prevented students in Osceola County from pursuing post-secondary education, including:
- Valencia Ambassador Program: Our Valencia Ambassador Program employs current Valencia students and recent Valencia graduates to visit K-12 classrooms in Osceola County and host student visitors on campus. Our Ambassadors talk about the importance of going to college, emphasizing how they overcame the same barriers that students in the audience are likely facing.
- Campus Express: Campus Express, supported by the Celebration Foundation, aims to provide every student in Osceola County the opportunity to visit Valencia. Organized as a school field trip, students travel to Valencia’s Osceola Campus, learn about the importance of going to college and take a tour of the campus.
- Scholarship Workshops: Each Spring, we offer “Scholarship Workshops,” in English and Spanish, at which staff are available to help students complete their Valencia application, their FAFSA and scholarship applications.
- “Mock College” Days: Our campus hosts more than 1,500 students each year for a day of “Mock College.” Students in third through 12th grades are invited to campus to attend “mini-classes” to get a sense of what college is like and to reignite their love for learning.
- Celebrating College Decisions: We partner with the school district to host “Decision Days” at each high school to celebrate seniors who plan to attend college. Moreover, throughout the year, each school takes a photograph of all seniors with their college acceptance letters and creates a photo montage in the guidance office or cafeteria.
As the result of our collective efforts, the college-going rate in Osceola County has increased from 40.1 percent in 2010 to 48.6 percent in 2015 (the most recent data available by the Florida Department of Education), more than a 20 percent increase in six years. While Osceola County ranked nearly last in the state (61 out of 67 counties in Florida) with regard to its college-going rate in 2010, its ranking had risen to the top half of the state (27 out of 67 counties) by 2015.
Again, my sincere thanks and congratulations to each of you who have been part of the “Got College?” movement. Please wear your “Got College?” T-shirt with pride, knowing that you are indeed making a difference in the lives of students in Osceola County.