When faced with the prospect of figuring out how to balance school, work, and family obligations so they can finish their degree, many of those Floridians have recurring questions and concerns.
“Students want an idea of what (credits) they have left to complete their degree, and they want to know how they can get help with scholarships and paying for school,” said Matt Smith, completion coach for Complete Tampa Bay, a LEAP Tampa Bay College Access Network initiative that provides free re-enrollment coaching and support to students in the region with prior college or technical training experience. Complete Tampa Bay is especially focused on removing barriers for the area’s Black, Hispanic, and low-income populations.
While the initiative officially launched this past Fall, the vision for Complete Tampa Bay began more than a year earlier when LEAP — the local college access network (LCAN) serving Hillsborough and Pinellas counties — applied for and won a $125,000 Talent Hub grant from Lumina Foundation to support adults in the area who have earned some college credit, but not a degree.
According to a 2019 American Community Survey, roughly 330,000 Tampa Bay residents have some college credit but never completed a credential or degree program. Complete Tampa Bay’s local educational partners include St. Petersburg College, University of South Florida, Hillsborough Community College, Pinellas Technical College and Hillsborough Technical Colleges.
“We’ve started by focusing on the 65,000 who started some college but stopped at SPC, USF, and HCC within the last five years,” said Becky Gilmore, program coordinator for LEAP, for which Community Foundation of Tampa Bay is the backbone partner.
Gilmore said the initiative is modeled after Complete Florida, a statewide program that was discontinued last summer prior to Complete Tampa Bay’s launch due to lack of state funding.
Smith, who previously served as Complete Florida’s lead coach for five years, now fills the same role for Complete Tampa Bay by helping returning adult learners sort through their education options, explore their financial aid opportunities, and access free tutoring.
Partnering for success
In January, LEAP announced a partnership with Knack, a Tampa-based tutoring service that pairs students with peers who have excelled in the courses they are taking.
“As the Tampa Bay community continues to flourish, and given this time of immense need, it is essential that we come together to support innovative programs like Complete Tampa Bay that ultimately help meet the needs of our local workforce,” said Samyr Qureshi, Knack’s co-founder and CEO, in a statement.
LEAP also recently announced partnerships with the Pinellas County Urban League (PCUL) and the Urban League of Hillsborough County (ULHC). Knack will encourage PCUL and ULHC clients who are interested in continuing their education to do so through Complete Tampa Bay.
“LEAP Tampa Bay and ULHC have joined forces to assist individuals who have dropped out to get back into college and attain their degree,” said Stanley Gray, executive director of Urban League of Hillsborough County, in a statement. “ULHC is focused on collaborative relationships with community organizations in fulfilling our mission for economic equity in the African American community.”
“The key to future growth of any individual is utilizing all the resources available to them to achieve a better place in the workforce,” said Rev. Watson L. Haynes II, President & CEO of Pinellas County Urban League, in a statement. “In these critical times, it is more important to focus on educational advancement.”
Chuck Tiernan, LEAP’s senior director, praised those recent partnerships, as well as the collaborative spirit of Complete Tampa Bay’s postsecondary partners.
“One of our tenets is, ‘What served the student the first time, may not be what serves them best this time,’” Tiernan said. “We explore all the options, whether it’s a student returning to the school where they started or working with them to utilize their credits at another institution.”
While the initiative is still in its very early stages, Smith said the response from students so far has been positive.
“Most of the students are happy that something like this exists,” Smith said. “Some are happy to share their story with me, but a lot of them are just happy to begin.”
Visit LEAP’s website to learn more about Complete Tampa Bay and fill out an online form to connect with a completion coach.