Education beyond high school has long been viewed as the gateway to economic prosperity. In fact, the Florida Chamber of Commerce Foundation indicated in their Florida Jobs 2030 report, the state will add six million new residents and will need to create two million net new jobs by 2030. The result of this anticipated population and workforce growth is an increased need for workers skilled in traditional sectors, such as manufacturing and financial services, as well as disruptive technologies that are still evolving.
Armed with national research that indicates the need for an increased focus on education beyond high school, the Pinellas Education Foundation in partnership with LEAP Tampa Bay College Access Network and the Florida College Access Network, and with grant support from the Foundation for a Healthy St. Petersburg, published a report that established a baseline of college readiness and postsecondary educational attainment in Pinellas county. The 2018 Pinellas Community Indicator Report highlighted the need to develop a collective understanding of barriers to student success and close considerable achievement gaps that exist between minority and non-minority students – gaps that often discourage minority and low income students from pursuing postsecondary education. “While a high percentage of graduates enroll in postsecondary education, we noted a discrepancy in the number that complete, especially with low income and minority student populations.” said Stacy Baier, President and CEO, Pinellas Education Foundation. “Recognizing that the solution could not rest with one organization, we joined up with the district and community partners to devise strategies that support increased student access to and through college.”
As a result of the 2018 report, the partnerships fostered by LEAP Tampa Bay set out to accelerate the progress of Elevating Excellence, the initiative launched in spring 2018 by Pinellas County Schools. Elevating Excellence seeks to engage students and their families on a personalized path to college success through individualized supports including pathway course progression, parent and student engagement, academic counseling and targeted support, peer collaboration experiences, college entrance test preparation, and college scholarship planning.
Providing a centralized location for these support services are high-school-based college and career centers that encourage all students, particularly under-resourced students, to explore postsecondary education and degree attainment. The services of each college and career center will assist students starting their freshman year to inform course selection and the progression of college access preparation activities while in high school, ultimately positioning each student to successfully engage in education after graduation that will lead to meaningful career options.
In partnership with the Pinellas Education Foundation, Pinellas County Schools, LEAP Tampa Bay College Access Network, and the Richard O. Jacobson Foundation, Helios Education Foundation invested $1.3 million dollars into the establishment of college and career centers throughout Pinellas County. “Helios’ funding support is an investment in each student’s untapped potential. We are proud to provide this support to ensure students, particularly under-resourced students, are encouraged to explore education beyond high school ― an education that leads to prosperity for them as individuals and the community as a whole” said Paul J. Luna, President and CEO of Helios Education Foundation.
Originally launched at Largo High School, additional centers opened at Clearwater High School, Pinellas Park High School, Gibbs High School and Boca Ciega High School this academic year. Pinellas County Schools has committed to open college and career centers at all 17 high schools. “Thanks to the investment from Helios and our partnership through LEAP Tampa Bay, the district is able to intensify the tools and services we provide through Elevating Excellence and our College and Career Centers so our students and their families believe in and realize their infinite potential as they navigate the college- and career- going processes,” said Dr. Michael Grego, Superintendent of Pinellas County Schools.