Guest presenters:

  • Vanessa Coca, Ph.D., Director of Research, The Hope Center for College, Community, and Justice
  • Kallie Clark, Ph.D., Senior Research Associate, The Hope Center for College, Community, and Justice

FCAN host:  Kimberly Lent, Assistant Director of Research and Policy

Opening remarks: Paul Perrault, Ph.D., Senior Vice President, Community Impact and Learning, Helios Education Foundation

On October 7, FCAN hosted a webinar highlighting some preliminary findings from a recent report exploring the college decision-making process of Black students in Florida and the supports they need to achieve their goals.

The project was a partnership between Helios Education Foundation and The Hope Center for College, Community, and Justice. Dr. Paul Perrault, senior vice president of community impact and learning for Helios, noted during his opening remarks that, while college enrollment is down nationwide, the project sought to specifically address the enrollment gap among Black students.

“As we work to address equity issues and provide more opportunities through education, we really wanted to understand why we’re seeing these dips (in college enrollment),” Perrault said. “Can we start homing in and understanding why certain populations might be making these decisions?”

Closing the attainment and enrollment gaps for Black students

Florida’s working-age population is slated to be 53% non-white by 2030, yet Black and Hispanic Floridians currently trail white Floridians in degree attainment by double digits.

Overall, 42.2% of Floridians have a 2-year degree or higher, but there are significant differences in attainment by race and ethnicity. For instance, only 30.8% of Black Floridians have a 2-year degree or higher, which is well behind the 46.1% 2-year degree or higher attainment figure for their White counterparts, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey.

The COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated the issue and threatened to widen the enrollment gap: community college enrollment among Black students nationwide dropped by 11% in 2020.

“We know there are declining enrollment rates, not just in Florida, but across the U.S.,” said Dr. Kallie Clark, senior research associate for The Hope Center. “We also know that Black students are disproportionately affected.”

In order to ensure Florida remains Talent Strong, we must address these gaps in attainment and college enrollment.

Understanding the needs and expectations of Black college applicants

According to Clark, the goal of the research project was two-fold:

  1. Understand the expectations, challenges, and obligations Black students face on the road to college enrollment.
  2. Identify points of intervention to better support Black students in the transition to college.

The project revealed that while 74% of Black applicants appear to be getting connected to some college supports at higher rates than their White peers — 75% of Black students said they’d “talked about filing a FAFSA,” and 74% of Black students said they “talked about college options” — only 41% of Black students said they “talked about basic needs in college.”

According to the 2019 #RealCollege Survey, Black college students in Florida experience basic needs insecurity at a greater proportion (75%) than their White (62%), Latinx (64%) or Asian (55%) counterparts. The project revealed a similar ratio for Black college applicants in Florida, with 25% experiencing food insecurity compared to only 15% and 10% for their Latinx and White counterparts, respectively.

“In terms of looking at racial disparities and experiences with basic needs insecurity, the patterns (in Florida) are very similar to what we see nationally,” said Dr. Vanessa Coca, director of research for The Hope Center.

As Black college applicants prepare to leave the potential safety net of K-12 — including free and reduced-price lunch at school or living at home with family — it’s important to help ensure their food and housing needs are being adequately met.

Greater FAFSA support and other recommendations

The project also examined the financial challenges Black applicants face on the road to college, revealing that 59% received federal benefits such as SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), Medicaid, or free and reduced-price lunch.

Unfortunately, Black students are not maximizing their access to federal and state financial aid to help pay for college: the project revealed that 17% of Black students who expected federal or state aid had either not filed out a FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) or were unsure if they did.

“Right now, it is FAFSA time and we’ve seen a strong correlation between FAFSA completion and college-going,” said Perrault, alluding to the recent start of the latest FAFSA cycle on October 1.  “Let’s get students to complete the FAFSA so they can actually see that they can afford college.”

On top of greater support for FAFSA completion, the report recommendations for supporting Black students before they enroll in college include:

  • Postsecondary coaches
  • Emergency aid during the transition to college

In terms of supporting students once they are on a college campus, the report recommends:

  • Greater supports to students with family obligations
  • Connect students to public benefits programs
  • Use Higher Education Emergency Relief Funds for emergency aid
  • Greater mental health support

The recommendations reflect the “all-hands-on-deck” approach that will be required to close these gaps.

“This isn’t a K-12 problem, and this isn’t a higher-ed problem…this is an everyone problem,” Clark said. “The disconnect — especially from aspiration to enrollment — happens on a continuum and we have to find a way to fill that gap between high school and college, and that means working together.”

FCAN thanks the following for their partnership during this webinar:

Show Notes

To learn more about the research project and the perspective of Black college applicants — or to view the webinar and download the presentation — take advantage of these resources:


Be sure to visit our Past Webinars page for access to recordings and downloadable material from FCAN’s previous presentations.

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