Pictured (from left to right): The Honorable Daniel Webster, United States House of Representatives; David Fuller, President, SunTrust Foundation; Troy Miller, Associate Director of Research and Policy, Florida College Access Network; Diana Bolivar, President, Hispanic Chamber of Commerce; Rick Weddle, President, Orlando Economic Development Commission; Robert H. (Bob) Brown, President and CEO, Heart of Florida United Way; Braulio Colon, Vice President and Program Director of Postsecondary Completion, Helios Education Foundation; Paul Luna, President and CEO, Helios Education Foundation.

Researchers say the majority of the workforce will require a postsecondary degree or credential by year 2025, but only 40% of workers in Central Florida currently hold these qualifications.

To address this gap, Heart of Florida United Way (HFUW) and Central Florida College Access Network (CFCAN) hosted Destination Graduation: Building a 21st Century Workforce, a convening to discuss how to develop a workforce that will meet the demands of the evolving economy. More than 100 business leaders and elected officials gathered at the National Entrepreneur Center in Orlando, FL on September 1st for the event.

Leaders were asked to consider solutions and strategies to drive postsecondary attainment in the region. Speakers included Congressman Daniel Webster, SunTrust Foundation President David Fuller, Hispanic Chamber of Commerce President Diana Bolivar, and Helios Education Foundation President and CEO Paul Luna.

Through presentations by Rick Weddle, president of the Orlando Economic Development Commission and Troy Miller, associate director for research & policy with the Florida College Access Network, as well as testimony from recent graduates moderated by Braulio Colon, Vice President and Program Director for Postsecondary Completion at Helios Education Foundation, a key factor was identified as a barrier to postsecondary success—financial aid.

“The missing link between need and financial aid is FAFSA,” said Niurka Ferrer, Director of Transitions Planning of Valencia College and chair of the Central Florida College Access Network. “In Central Florida, less than half of graduating high school seniors even completed the FAFSA form last year, which is the gateway to receiving aid and pursuing a degree or credential. As a community, we must make this a priority.”

Representatives included leaders of a variety of higher education, business, philanthropic and nonprofit organizations including University of Central Florida, Rollins College, Seminole State College of Florida, Valencia College, Ana G. Méndez Metro Orlando Campus

The host committee for Destination Graduation included Congressman Daniel Webster; Florida Senator Andy Gardiner; City of Orlando Commissioner, Tony Ortiz; David Fuller, president of the SunTrust Foundation; Diana Bolivar, president of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce; Dr. E. Ann McGee, president of Seminole State College, and Robert H. (Bob) Brown, president and CEO of Heart of Florida United Way.

Florida College Access Network gives special thanks to the Heart of Florida United Way (HFUW) and the Central Florida College Access Network for their commitment to addressing the gap in degree attainment in Central Florida. Through collaborative efforts such as these, we are certain to increase the number of Floridians with a postsecondary degree or credential and build the economic prosperity of our state.

For pictures from the event, visit the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce Metro Orlando’s Facebook page.

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