Although Osceola County has already made progress in terms of enrolling its own high school graduates in Florida’s public post-secondary institutions, community leaders are even more excited about what the rest of 2017 has in store.
Representatives from Got College? Got Career? — a program that counts the School District of Osceola County, Valencia College, and the Education Foundation of Osceola County as its lead partners — recently offered an update on some current initiatives along with a glimpse into the program’s future.
“We had too many kids in our community where the day before their high school graduation we’d ask them, ‘What are you going to do next?’ and they’d have no clue,” said Kathy Carr, executive director of the Education Foundation. Got College? Got Career? was established in 2013.
Osceola, along with Orange and Seminole counties, is part of the Central Florida College Access Network.
During the presentation — which took place at Osceola Heritage Park and was attended by more than 100 community members — Got College? leaders noted that 45.2 percent of the county’s high school graduates enrolled in public post-secondary institutions within the state, according to the most recent data from 2014.
While that represents an improvement from the county’s 41.3 percent rate during the year Got College? launched — reflecting data from 2011 — the figure is still below the state’s overall 52.3 percent rate, along with that of neighboring counties like Orange (53.4 percent), Indian River (54.3 percent), Brevard (56.2 percent), Okeechobee (56.2 percent), and Seminole (61.6 percent).
Program leaders have identified 23 overall strategies to help boost post-secondary attainment, but Got College? has placed a priority on eight.
1. Increase the number of college information sessions for parents.
2. Provide opportunities for families to receive assistance with the financial aid process.
3. Increase the number of college tours along with visits to Valencia College and the Technical Education Center Osceola (TECO).
4. Invite Valencia “ambassadors” to visit K-12 classrooms.
5. Expand meaningful dual enrollment opportunities.
6. Develop visible means to measure college-going rates.
7. Continue efforts to expand curriculum alignment.
8. Create a coordinated, centralized schedule and community scholarship list for the county through the education foundation.
Got College? described some of the ways it is addressing these issues, including arranging for students from Title I schools to be transported to Valencia and TECO during the spring for campus visits. The program has also already offered more than 20 sessions for parents to learn about the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and scholarships opportunities.
The presentation also highlighted Future Teachers Academy, which is slated to debut this fall. The program seeks to address the county’s teacher shortage by allowing students to take classes at Valencia’s Osceola campus while serving as paid substitute teachers for the school district. Upon earning their associate’s degree, program members can complete their bachelor’s degree from the University of Central Florida’s Osceola campus at Valencia. A guaranteed job offer from Osceola’s school district awaits students who complete the program.
“Since we started Got College?, we’ve made a lot of great progress,” Carr said. “A lot of our community groups and nonprofits have stepped up to the table.”