Monthly Archives

June 2015


By | News


Did you know that the average worker will have eight different jobs in their lifetime? Or that there are more than a quarter of a million job openings in Florida waiting for the right person?

A new video released by, a non-partisan advocacy website created by the Florida Chamber of Commerce, highlights why education is important to closing the state’s skills gap and encourages businesses to invest in “today’s learners who will become tomorrow’s earners.” To help Florida remain globally competitive, businesses must help workers continue to develop their skills by engaging in workforce training opportunities and earning key certifications.

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The Relationship Between Student Debt and College Completion

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The District of Columbia is the student debt capital of America. At nearly $41,000, the average student loan burden for someone living in Washington, D.C., is $10,000 higher than in any other state.

Yet, the nation’s capital is also the most educated state or territory in America; it is the only place where a majority of people between ages 18 and 65 have at least an associate’s degree. So while the District of Columbia does lead in student debt, at least the accumulated loans appear to have led to successful degrees.

The link between debt and educational attainment is too frequently missing from national discussions on student loans. While it is easy to bemoan high levels of student debt and big numbers—such as the more than $1 trillion that Americans currently owe—not all loans are inherently bad. The major issue is whether students who borrowed completed their education. Data bear out this assertion. Borrowers who earn a degree are much less likely to default on their loans than those who do not, and dropouts represent an estimated 60 percent of all people who default on their loans.

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Growing trend: Corporations providing college tuition as employee benefit

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Starbucks made headlines last spring as more than just a campus hot spot when it announced a free college tuition plan for its employees. Fiat Chrysler Automobiles and health insurance company Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield have now followed suit, and Starbucks has expanded its program.

While each corporation is partnering with a specific higher ed institution, the plans and stipulations vary:

  • Starbucks’ partner, Arizona State University, will cover 42 percent of a qualifying employee’s tuition for ASU’s online program, while Starbucks will reimburse the remaining 58 percent at the end of each semester. All full-time and part-time Starbucks employees without a four-year degree may apply. Previously, two years of college (junior and senior years) was offered, but that has been extended to four years for most workers.
  • Fiat Chrysler is going beyond tuition. Employees can attend Strayer University, a Virginia-based private, for-profit institution. Participating dealerships pay a flat fee to join the program, and the company covers tuition, books and other expenses for an unlimited number of employees from that location.
  • Anthem’s program is a reimbursement plan in partnership with College for America at Southern New Hampshire University. It’s open to full- and part-time employees who work 20 or more hours per week and have been employed at least six months.

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Where Dreams Come True

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Orlando doesn’t just represent Mickey and Minnie anymore. Central Florida’s institutions of higher learning are creating a seamless pipeline of social mobility.


Orlando doesn’t seem like ground zero for the debate over higher education and social inequality. This Florida city, after all, is still best known for Disney World, the iconic Cinderella Castle and endless days of butter-yellow sunshine.

Yet for much of the past decade, Orlando’s University of Central Florida and four Florida state colleges (formerly known as community colleges) have been forging a path that could be as groundbreaking as the dreams that once carved out a magical kingdom here amid cow pastures.

At first glance, the innovative program—known as DirectConnect to UCF—seems to represent a modest goal: Ensure that students who enroll in community college graduate successfully, then make a seamless transition to UCF, a four-year degree and, later, a career. That straightforward mission, though, actually cuts to the heart of the national conversation about access to higher education: Who gets it? Who can afford it? And where will it take you?

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High school students earn college degrees

By | News

lillian-mulliganLocal students can get a head start on college while they are still in high school thanks to a cooperative program sponsored by Bay District Schools and Gulf Coast State College.

Through a process called dual enrollment, six students obtained an Associate of Arts degree from Gulf Coast this past school year. These students took classes at GCSC while enrolled at their high school. The program, according to GCSC, will “allow students to begin working on their college degree earlier in their academic careers and thus complete their degree in a shorter period of time.”

Bay High School graduate Lillian Mulligan, 18, was one of these students. Mulligan is going on to study engineering at Florida Southern College on a full scholarship.

“I feel good about it,” she said of getting a degree before she ever steps foot on a college campus. “It was a lot of work.”

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Report: Adult College Completion in the 21st Century: What We Know and What We Don’t

By | News, Report

adult college completion

Interest in adult college completion, both for adults with some college credit and those who have never before attended college, has dramatically increased across the higher education community. This report draws from the considerable body of recent research focused on various populations of adult learners, including data gathered during Higher Ed Insight’s recent evaluation of Lumina Foundation’s adult college completion efforts. The goal of the report is to synthesize what has been learned about the needs of adult college students, particularly those returning to college after stopping out, as well as to identify areas where further inquiry is needed in order to demonstrate effective ways to support degree completion for adults.

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Associate degree is first step for many

By | News

Younger associate degree graduates are more likely to earn a bachelor’s degree within six years than older graduates, according to a new report from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center.

The Snapshot Report on Degree Pathways looked at degree attainment among students who earned their first postsecondary credentials in 2008-09. It found that two in five students (41 percent) who earned an associate degree had earned a bachelor’s degree within six years.

Among students who were 20 years old or younger when they earned an associate degree, 60.9 percent had earned a bachelor’s within six years. That percentage dropped to 43.3 percent among those age 21 to 24 and to 31.4 percent among those over 24.

The research center reports men with associate degrees were slightly more likely to earn a bachelor’s within six years than women. The rates were 42.1 percent for men and 40.8 percent for women.

In general, it took people in the study an average of 2.8 years to earn a bachelor’s after completing an associate degree.

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Florida Weekly: Climbing Aspirations

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climbing aspirations

If you’re like most people — about 95 percent of adults who can work — you have to get up and go into the salt mines each day. So there hasn’t been a lot of time to sit around and think about “attainment equity.”

As a term, perhaps, it’s fairly leaden. But as a concept — one carefully defined by a private foundation called Lumina (from the Latin word for light) with a billion-dollar-plus endowment trying to muscle-up education in the United States — it’s magic. Hard economic magic, a cooking fire of sorts.

And now that economic cooking fire has been lit beneath the soup of Southwest Florida in a program known as the FutureMakers Coalition. The title is apt. It’s tailored and fit to the region by the Southwest Florida Community Foundation, which has brought together a network of experts and advocates. The foundation is working with Lumina coaches and using a new and never-before-harnessed cadre of team members from business, education and government.

1p2.previewWhen it comes to “attainment equity,” they can see the light, and for two reasons: one, it’s worth immense community wealth (not to mention better personal fortune, for many) over the next 20 years. And two, we don’t have it.

As it stands, if Southwest Florida were the United States in microcosm, we’d rank way down in the so-called “second world” on the planet for level of education, at 27 percent: that’s the percentage of adults here who hold post-secondary degrees or certificates.

The national average is 40 percent. Which itself ranks the United States at only number 13 among developed nations for level of education. And that statistic is just plain flat dangerous, says Lumina. (Canada, for example, ranges up near 60 percent, according to Lumina statistics.)



So the FutureMakers Coalition has a single definable goal: to raise the level of those with certificates or college degrees from 27 percent to 40 percent by the year 2025, in Southwest Florida. In the United States, meanwhile, the goal of the Lumina Foundation, which is based in Indianapolis, is to raise the percentage from 40 to 60 percent.

How? By working within the decades-old educational system as well as disrupting it, says Jamie Merisotis, the president and CEO of Lumina.

Where’s the story?401342914 Points Mentioned

“We’re working side by side with employers, postsecondary education leaders, and community members in 75 metro areas to encourage broader adoption of and support for Goal 2025,” he explains at Those communities will shape their educations to fit their needs and residents “through significant technical and planning assistance, data tools, and flexible funding.”



Which sounds nice, but also requires that communities redefine success in education by “rewarding all forms of postsecondary learning,” Mr. Merisotis argues.

“A core element of this approach is a strategic document called the Degree Qualifications Profile, which defines the skills and knowledge students need to earn degrees at various levels. In short, the DQP shifts the discussion on campuses from ‘What are we going to teach?’ to ‘What should our students know and be able to do? What knowledge and skills must they be able to demonstrate to thrive?’”

If it sounds easy enough, it may not be.

“Attainment equity” simply means getting a much greater percentage of people with high school diplomas or GEDs to go on in their educations — to earn useful certificates or college diplomas. And that means finding new ways to reach adults who want to come back to college or certified training programs, and first generation students whose parents don’t hold post-secondary degrees, and low-income and minority students who can’t figure out how to tap into a system that can offer money and help.



At the FutureMakers Coalition, they call those people “21st century students,” the ones we need to reach to make the society stronger and wealthier.

When the statistic is broken down — that 40 percent of adult Americans have post-high school degrees or certificates, now — the demographics of 21st century students become more clear: Among Asian American adults, 59 percent have post-secondary certificates or degrees. Among whites, it’s 44 percent, African Americans 27 percent, Native Americans 23 percent, and Latinos 20 percent, Lumina figures show.



But why bother with all that if you’re getting up and going into the salt mines every day, and you’re not an educator?

Why should such diverse organizations and some of their best thinkers across the region get behind this, volunteering their time (which, after all, is money) — outfits such as Fifth Third Bank, Wells Fargo, The Microenterprise Institute of Goodwill, Deva Industries, CareerSource of Southwest Florida, the city of Fort Myers, the Southwest Florida Regional Technology Partnership, Lee Memorial Health System, the PACE Center for Girls, Florida Gulf Coast University, Florida SouthWestern State College, Keiser University and Hodges University, the Scientists Society of Southwest Florida, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Charlotte County, Al and Nancy Burnett Charitable Foundation, the engineering and planning firm, EnSight, the Glades Education Foundation, theCollier, Lee and Charlotte county school districts, the Guadalupe Center, the Horizon Council, PR Zebra and Florida Weekly, among many others?



Here’s the answer and it’s based on this demonstrable statistic: Those who earn degrees or useful certificates after high school will, on average, take in $2.8 million more in their working lifetimes than those who don’t, government statistics show.

And when that happens, the places those people live, the children those people raise, the businesses and organizations that pay those people salaries and benefits, along with those people themselves can contribute significantly more to their communities and their country, and probably have a lot more fun in the meantime.

That’s why the Lumina Foundation has now chosen the five-county region we call Southwest Florida to become one of the key metro or sub-metro regions in the U.S. to make fundamental changes in the way we, as a region, approach education.

1p8.previewBoots on the ground

It’s happening in 74 other regions or major metropolitan areas in the U.S., as well, says Tessa LeSage, director of social innovation and sustainability at the Community Foundation, or as she puts it, the woman with “the neatest job title in the world.”

The Lumina Foundation, administering grants of about $50 million annually and guiding the various regions, has chosen Southwest Florida because of the increasing population here — 1.2 million and climbing — and because the region’s struggles to raise the level of education, and to avoid “brain drain,” as they call it when young people move away, taking their skills elsewhere.

Ms. LeSage herself is a model for the future, perhaps, like many of those who are joining the FutureMakers Coalitions and its special teams: the Aspiration and Preparation team (35 team members to date); Access and Entry (13); Persistence and Progress (11); Completion (32); Data (six) and Media (seven team members).

Ms. LeSage grew up here before getting a higher education in Boston and then returning — with her brainpower, education and talent — to her birthplace, making her the model of deportment of the FutureMakers Coalition.

She is now raising her own children in the region, and she describes what the FutureMakers Coalition will make happen, this way: “This is a cradle to career system, which includes education and workforce development and economic development and jobs — each of the functions in our (community).

“My job is to get people on these teams. I say, ‘We’re not here to create a new job for you. We want you to come be a part of this team and have it enhance, and make your work easier and more effective. Most people are thrilled, and they want to get on board.”


Here are the voices of just a few of those who are stepping in — who have gathered for their first strategy meetings, who are now able to work with such coalitions in other cities or regions, and who consult with coaches at Lumina.


¦ Peg Elmore, director of business, Career Source Southwest Florida

“We are in our early stages. It’s an ambitious goal but I do think it’s achievable. We support this as part of what we do. We work within the five counties now, and we know there are thousands who cross county lines every day for work.

At the last meeting we broke up into different groups, asking who was repping somebody, who was doing training or working in the high schools — then we did asset mapping (using data to understand who and what is available). I walked away thinking, ‘Wow we have a lot of resources… the breadth of them… everything from needing space, to funding, to contacts and collaborative efforts — it’s across the board.”

“More people are moving into Florida instead of out if it. And we need trained and educated people.

“Even within the hospitality industry the value of credentials can be crucial — and sometimes people don’t know what they don’t know. But they can enter into a tiny program and learn; there’s so much more to the software than they realize. So the act of getting the credential is a learning and growing experience itself. We must all be lifelong learners.

“Even though unemployment is now at a low of roughly 5 percent, I work with businesses who are seeking qualified talent on a daily basis. And there are gaps in occupations. Computer skills, the building trades — there’s an instructor at the Fort Myers Institute of Technology who’s having trouble keeping the automotive service technicians in the class long enough to graduate because they can get such good jobs even before they finish.

“And insurance programs that affect the health-care industry. We have a number of medical personnel who have learned on the job, but with tighter insurance regulations, its critical they get certified.”


¦ Gina Frazier, president of Deva Industries.

“If we are to have an impact, we must take a total systems approach, involving not just the schools but local businesses, nonprofits, government entities, private citizens, and the students themselves.

“We need ways to excite kids about learning, so they want to go on for degrees or certifications. Especially those kids facing circumstances that place them at risk. There are many great programs locally that do this, such as those through the JROTC, I Will Mentorship Foundation, Kappa Alpha PSI Educational Foundation, Uncommon Friends Foundation, Lee County Electric Coop, to name just a few. What I do at Deva for Good (Ms. Frazier’s pro-bono arm) is help make the connections and facilitate collaboration among those who can make a difference.

“I look at things from a big system approach — how do things interact together?

Most people think in a silo — you’re thinking one way, the only way education occurs. But that’s not the case.

How do you get kids excited? They have to want to do it, to know there are possibilities — and, they have to have the financial responsibility.

When I was young, I hated math in school. Later I entered dance competitions, and I realized it was all geometry. They’re doing angles and curves. And I thought, ‘Why didn’t they tell us this is in school?’ And I developed a computer program that would create patterns for the dance. Everything around us is math. It made me look at the world completely differently. So if you can make it meaningful to kids, you can change how they feel about learning.

“Getting that 27 percent up to 40? That’s going to be a tough goal. It’s a campaign, a marketing campaign.

“We need to pull in students to get their opinions, and ask them, ‘Why aren’t you going off to be educated (after high school)? I don’t think I saw any students in the meeting.’”


¦ Brent Kettler, data consultant

Data, says Tessa LeSage, is one of the FutureMakers Coalition’s most powerful tools. “We can use Geographic Information Systems to create layered maps with data that let you understand almost anything about a community: what infrastructure is in place, what access to internet service are in place, what properties are already zoned or have entitlements, or, as in the Tampa Bay Regional Partnership, a map on top of commercial or office space that also offers information about the workforce, the kinds of degrees or certificates they have and where they are.

“And the other side is understanding what’s going on in terms of the cradle to career system, with data.”

Enter Brent Kettler.

“When I worked for Lee County’s Economic Development Office, my role morphed into business intelligence, technology, and the role of databases

“Because economic development has morphed into something else.

“Traditionally, businesses would come to different metro areas and vet the area for clients and everything else — quality of life, education, and workforce. They’d physically show up, doing interviews and getting background.

“But it has a different face, and there’s this younger generation of directors, in charge as senior level economic development directors, and their understanding of information, and they way mine it and use it is different.

“Now you can provide data sets that paint a picture.

“So where this spins into Lumina and Tessa and my assistance with the FutureMakers Coalition is here: I started to look at our numbers and the 27 percent of post secondary attainment, and ask a couple of questions. That 13 percent we want to make up, there’s a lack of definition about what a post secondary degree or certificate is — it has to be employable, but there’s a problem: there are all these great information tools out there, and on line, but they’re hard to measure, to track.

“I was shocked at how many (good programs) there are down here and how employable these folks are who come from them.

“So the meat and bones is: how are we going to achieve this, and how can we make this effort work. We have to figure out what our landscape looks like.

“The Census tells us that Lee County alone has just north of 15,000 employers, and 92 percent of businesses have less than 20 employees. You look at revenue of organizations and head count to learn that there are 1.12 IT employees per 20 head count. So that means that every single business relies on technology now. It’s multifaceted, and I would be very shocked if Collier and Charlotte are not similar. Information security, website security, customer data management… those don’t require four-year degrees.

“So this gets into social part of it. There’s a ton of momentum here for this, there’s no state tax, a great broadband structure, and the rent isn’t too bad either. And with ACA and the availability of health care, you can work by yourself, if you have some kind of usable skills. So this is a great place to live. But there’s a problem, and that’s brain drain or migration of workers — it’s a hole in the boat. Business is coming in, but the workforce leaks.


¦ Jonathan Romine, landscape architect and principal at EnSite Inc.

I’m doing this in part because I wanted to help mentor youth and at-risk kids — pipe dream stuff — who didn’t have a fairy tale upbringing, like I did. And my wife is a public school teacher.

“I also didn’t believe we should be waiting until retirement before we give back. I think it is a duty and corporate responsibility to be involved — not just invested but involved. As a business owner, I was looking for something that didn’t have a huge liability attached to it, too.

“I have two kids I’m mentoring now. They’re both going to be seniors. We all had conversations about the Future- Makers program. A lot of times these kids have no money, so they can’t go to college in their minds, but they don’t realize what’s out there. There’s money available if they keep up their GPAs and finish. So the idea of helping these kids understand opportunity appeals to me.

“This is still the only country where anybody can make it if they’re willing to try. And I still think public education is the most valuable tool available to everybody, because you cannot be successful without education. I’m not saying everybody should go to college, but education is still the foundation. And as a country, the fact that we provide every single child with access is wonderful. So I’m committed. My mom, my wife, my mother-in-law, some of my cousins — they’re all teachers. At the end of the day, they make pennies but they produce productive citizens.

“We take that for granted far too often.

“I love it when people say how awful public schools are and how great private schools are, and I ask them when was the last time they rolled up their sleeves and stepped in to help.

“That’s what we’re doing here.”


¦ Ava Barrett, library director for Hendry County

“FutureMakers is a great idea. Southwest Florida has this challenge, and with the number of certifications we have, this is a great opportunity for us to help change these kinds of statistics that are not very complimentary.

“I am in Clewiston, and I think the statistics might be worse here than anywhere else.

My role: To be able to work with local entities, such as CareerSource, to see how I can run programs to reach people who can get this done. I can be there to help sign people up for postsecondary degrees or certificates, and for the money that can help them pay for it.

So we’ve started to talk to young people, and help them sign up for (scholarships for low-income students). There is money available. Free money, and they can’t take advantage of it if they don’t know how.

“So my role is to push — to push the idea of getting them scholarship and aid money. That way we will have more certified people.

“Another thing I’m doing at my library — we have purchased subscriptions to some Microsoft IT academy places. Through this they are able to get Microsoft certifications — and we’ve started off with Office. Right now, we’re talking with Florida SouthWestern State College about how we can partner to help provide instruction so we can get more people who are qualified. This looks positive for the Hendry County library system and we’re hoping to entice people from Belle Glade and Moore Haven as well as Labelle and Harlem.

“I believe it’s doable. If we put all our effort into do it, it’s possible to move those percentages. Especially if we’re working with the school system, and not only with people still in schools, but many out of school.” ¦

Degrees of Separation

By | News


How local leaders are trying to close the higher education gap and diversify the workforce.

For most Southwest Florida adults, education stopped at high school.

Just 27 percent of working-aged people in the five-county area hold a post-secondary degree, plus an untold number of others who hold technical certifications.

In some ways, the education level doesn’t seem problematic. As of about a month ago, 46 percent of job openings on the state’s employment database asked for no more than a high school diploma or equivalency. That’s not unusual.

But those aren’t the jobs that lead to individual or regional economic gain, and they certainly aren’t the jobs that will move Southwest Florida beyond its traditional tourism, hospitality and construction base. If the recession taught the region one lesson, it’s that economic diversification is paramount.

Now some community leaders and educators are wondering if the education gap is holding Southwest Florida back—and they’re taking big steps to make college more alluring and attainable.

“One of the first things businesses ask when they are expanding or relocating is, ‘Can I find people?’” says Dennie Hamilton, CEO of Lee County Electric Cooperative and a member of the recently formed Southwest Florida Economic Development Alliance.

The answer: Not always. “It has been a bit of a challenge to attract individuals,” acknowledges John Patrick Boland, the vice president of strategy for Hertz Equipment Rental Corp., a subsidiary of the rental car business. His firm, which is in the process of separating from the parent company, will primarily seek people with “knowledge” skills such as information technology.

Hamilton and Boland are among the 80 business leaders, educators, politicians and civic leaders supporting the newly formed “FutureMakers Coalition,” dedicated to increasing the region’s higher education completion rate to 40 percent by 2025.

Sarah Owen“Everything people have talked about what they want the region to be, the key is attainment,” says Sarah Owen, president and CEO of the Southwest Florida Community Foundation, who initiated the post-secondary push and the formation of FutureMakers (pictured left).

The coalition’s formation was a big deal. The Lumina Foundation, an Indianapolis-based nonprofit dedicated to increasing college and technical school grads nationwide, has adopted Southwest Florida as one of its partnering communities, throwing resources, expertise and clout behind the effort. The U.S. undersecretary of education attended a kickoff meeting, affirming the coalition’s significance.

To meet the new coalition’s goal, Southwest Florida will need 40,000 more degree holders in the next 10 years at current population levels.  To make that happen, Southwest Florida will need more students like Todd Hammer entering desperately needed—and often-forgotten—skilled trades, or those like Florida Gulf Coast University’s Madeline Heath and Elliott White finding ways of keeping their peers from dropping out, or civic leaders like Fort Myers Mayor Randy Henderson making it easier for adults to return to school.



The degree challenge isn’t unique to Southwest Florida. Globally, the United States ranks 11th in post-secondary attainment with 40 percent of adults holding an associate’s degree or higher. In South Korea, the rate is 64 percent; in Canada and Japan, it’s 60 percent, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

In Florida, 38.6 percent of adults have a degree.

The obvious response—coaxing more students into college—is not the real solution.

The region’s (and nation’s, for that matter) problem isn’t enrollment. It’s completion.

Nearly 70 percent of high school graduates make their way to college within two years; only about four in 10 will finish, according to the 2011 Pathways to Prosperity report by Harvard University. At Florida Gulf Coast University, 49 percent of students complete their degrees in six years, and 72 percent return to school after their first year with a grade point average of 2.0 or above.

Florida SouthWestern State College has a 24 percent three-year graduation rate.

The individual impact of dropping out is obvious; what’s less recognized is the overall blow to the nation’s economy. Four-year college dropouts cost taxpayers $9 billion in federal and state grants, and two-year college dropouts waste $4 billion in government aid, according to the Indiana-based nonprofit Complete College America.

People leave school for lots of reasons.

Financial: Money to start college is relatively easy to acquire; harder to secure is money to finish college after freshman-year scholarships run out. In addition, many students don’t realize they have to request financial aid every year, or they decline to seek federal help because the application is so complicated (the government is looking to simplify the process).

Family obligations: Work and parenting can make degree completion impossible for nontraditional students.

Failure to connect: Students who don’t bond with peers and professors are more likely to feel alone and overwhelmed, especially in the first year.

Lack of preparedness: Despite efforts at the K-12 level, 51 percent of two-year college students nationwide need remedial help to master college-level work.

Lack of interest: College isn’t right for every high school grad, but it’s the option most heavily promoted at the expense of technical schools, which offer career-specific training for well-paying jobs.

Pick any one of those factors, and you’ll find lots of ways Southwest Florida educators, nonprofits and business leaders are trying to address the challenges surrounding higher education completion.

What FutureMakers is trying to do is bring all of these efforts—and new ones—into alignment so that isolated initiatives become regional ones.

“We’re missing the interconnectedness,” says James Wohlpart, dean of undergraduate studies at Florida Gulf Coast University. [FutureMakers] will create that force.”


Elliott White, a sophomore at Florida Gulf Coast University, found his post-secondary career in jeopardy before it even started. His math scores were too low to earn immediate acceptance; he was offered a spot only if he completed a summer program and improved his numeric skills.

He did—and then he soared.

White earned a 4.0 grade point average his freshman year, was accepted into the Honors Program and is majoring in biology, the first step, he hopes, toward medical school.

Now, White is a peer academic leader in “Effective Learning,” a course newly required for those on academic probation. He’s hoping the study skills and strategies he and a faculty member deliver will help students turn their grades around—and keep them in school.

The university has stepped up such retention efforts in the past three years, says Wohlpart, undergraduate dean.

Efforts include: increasing internship and service-learning opportunities; linking students with mentors; finding new sources of financial aid for the later years of college; and working more closely with “super seniors,” those students who can’t quite seem to finish their degrees.

Wohlpart has encouraged students to pursue their own ideas, too, hoping to see them form stronger connections with each other, their professors and their community. One of them is Madeline Heath, a senior and the One Book, One Campus outreach coordinator. She has helped the university transform a required freshman reading project into a campus-wide analysis of a book, its issues and the ways its themes relate to students.

“I help create different events around the theme of the book,” says Heath. “It gets them academically engaged outside of the classrooms.” But more importantly, she suggests, it gives students a reason for being on campus aside from classes.

“One of the most brilliant people I ever worked with, she almost dropped out her freshman year,” Heath says.

“She was depressed and thought college wasn’t for her.” The student discovered a service-learning program that assists the Dominican Republic. The would-be college dropout graduated with a degree in anthropology and is now in Peru. Heath herself won a full scholarship to University of South Florida for graduate school. Her One Book experience inspired her to pursue work in university student services.

The retention efforts are paying off. This past year, 79 percent of freshmen returned for their sophomore year. The national average is around 73 percent, Wohlpart says. The percentage of students graduating within six years has increased from 44 percent to 49 percent, and thanks to local business support, FGCU has the highest rate of job placement for graduates in the state.

Florida SouthWestern State College has launched similar initiatives. Retention can be harder on that campus, populated largely by nontraditional and commuter students who don’t experience the bonding that dorm life fosters or have time to linger after class.

The college two years ago started the “Cornerstone Experience,” a course designed to ease the transition into college life, says Christine Davis, the vice president for student affairs and enrollment management. The curriculum includes goal-setting, selecting majors, mapping career plans.

“We felt they really needed this course at the start of their college careers,” Davis says. Other efforts include an Early Alert system that flags students with waning grades and links them with faculty members for support, a peer mentoring initiative and “Service Saturday” volunteer efforts, bringing students together outside of class.

“We’re building a community among students so they feel connected,” Davis explains.

College success also means making sure high school students are ready for college in the first place. Collier, for example, administers the Postsecondary Education Readiness Test, or PERT, to gauge the 11thgraders’ readiness for college-level reading, writing and math. Those who do poorly are offered additional instruction during their senior year.

“We spend a whole year trying to get the kids prepared,” says Dale Johnson, the Collier County School District’s supervisor of career and technical education.


Fort Myers Institute of Technology director William McCormick



When Todd Hammer graduated from high school, there was no question he was going to college. He attended Ohio Dominican University in Columbus, Ohio, and majored in criminal justice. “Trade school was not something pushed by my parents or teachers,” says Hammer, now a Fort Myers resident.

But Hammer later decided he wanted a career change and a hands-on profession. He enrolled in Fort Myers Institute of Technology to study air-conditioning, heating and refrigeration technology, and within 18 months, he had completed his training and landed a job.

“[My attitude] evolved. Working with your hands is a forgotten art and it’s making a comeback,” Hammer says.

Or so hopes William McCormick, the school’s director.

“We constantly fight this challenge that people just forget about us as part of the educational spectrum,” he says. A technical certificate is the equivalent of an associate’s degree.

The nation faces a shortage of skilled workers as generations of hands-on workers head into retirement. A Georgetown University study projects 47 million job vacancies by 2018 in fields such as health technology, construction, manufacturing and natural resources.

“Not enough high school graduates are going into these fields. People don’t think about them. They don’t think about technical professions being worthy of pursuit,” McCormick says.

Fort Myers Institute of Technology last year had the highest first-year wage ($38,064) and highest percent of employed graduates among the state’s 47 public technical schools. Those graduating with associate degrees from the state college system earn a median wage of $28,884; four-year state university graduates have a median salary of $36,884. Additionally, McCormick says, many technical school graduates go on to establish small businesses, the backbone of Southwest Florida’s economy.

“Most of the jobs in this region do not require a college degree, but they do require a technical certificate,” McCormick says.


The region’s K-12 schools want students to start thinking about careers and college years before graduation day arrives.

Across Lee and Collier counties, public high schools have implemented programs such as academically rich AVID and Cambridge AICE, in addition to an array of Advanced Placement courses and dual-enrollment offerings that allow students to earn college credit or work toward technical certifications while in high school.

“We want to provide as many different pathways and options as possible,” says Dale Johnson of Collier Schools.

Both districts are growing their career academies, special schools-within-schools that train students for industries ranging from construction to public service to health care, in addition to a standard academic foundation.

These students may take industry certification exams—the same tests adults take—qualifying them to go to work straight out of high school or to go on to more advanced post-secondary training.

In some cases, career academies target specific workforce gaps, such as a new welding program at East Lee County High School.

“As far as I know, it is the only full-time welding program at a regular high school,” Principal Brian Mangan says. In its first-ever round of certification tests, 204 students passed. “That was huge for us. It was inspiring, and we’re now setting up our second round of testing,” Mangan says.

Other students at his school are graduating as certified automotive technicians, nursing assistants and EKG technicians.

Outside organizations help. Florida Gulf Coast University both brings younger students on to campus and sends its students out to K-12 schools to lead special programs. Ave Maria University dispatches its students to Immokalee to work with children. Area businesses are working with Collier County Schools to offer teens summer internships. Junior Achievement of Southwest Florida sends business people into classrooms to deliver programs ranging from work-readiness to financial literacy to entrepreneurship.

“You have to plant these seeds now,” says Anne Frazier, the Junior Achievement CEO. “They are starting to make decisions that will affect them for the rest of their lives.”

Frazier thinks volunteers provide the link that is missing for many young people, answering the perennial “Why are we learning this?” question.

“We are helping them to see that ‘wow, there is a life outside of school,’” she says.


Nationally, some 36 million working adults have had some college, but no diploma to show for it, according to Lumina. That’s true for about 2 million Floridians, 21 percent of the state’s population.

Fort Myers Mayor Randy Henderson (pictured left) wants to create a downtown college center, a place where multiple institutions can offer courses or learning labs. Every day, some 10,000 people come into the city to work. Why not bring college to them rather than making them travel to college, he reasons.

“Every venue where I just happen to casually mention this, it turns heads,” he says. Henderson thinks it can be a reality in the near future.

Hodges University is working on other ways to aid adult learners, says interim President David Borofsky, whose campuses are comprised of mostly nontraditional students.

The university is addressing everything from childcare to transportation to financial aid, the challenges that derail its students, Borofsky says. He’s also pushing to enroll graduates of the school’s sizeable English as a Second Language program into degree programs. And Hodges has come up with creative ways to help adult professionals earn degrees that will propel them ahead in their industries. The UPower program is an online program that allows people to show mastery in the fields in which they already work and earn the credentials they need for advancement.

“The more students we can graduate or help have careers or get promoted, the more we add to the economy,” he says.


Elsewhere, communities that have made a regional commitment to post-secondary education are starting to see results, according to Haley Glover, strategy director for the Lumina Foundation. Louisville, Kentucky’s 55,000 Degrees initiative, for example, has resulted in a 20 percent increase in college graduates since 2010. The region has seen a 67 percent jump in the number of adult learners enrolling in school, and more than 60 employers have joined a Degrees at Work program.

Locally, the FutureMakers Coalition wants to address everything from changing the perception of technical education to encouraging high school grads to go to college or trade school to developing mentoring programs.

Efforts must include exposing students to high-end jobs available in this market, adds Mike Boose, the human relations director for Arthrex, a Naples-based medical device company that employs 1,500. Too often, he says, locally grown students think they have to go elsewhere for good opportunities.

“We want every student in the region to understand what employment opportunities are available,” says Boose, whose company has been setting up everything from in-house internships to training programs at local technical schools. “We invest in 12 years of educating a student and then we give them away.”

Industry leaders are eager to see what the postsecondary push can yield.

“Let’s just get this done and start trying to move the needle and figure out what works,” Hamilton says. “I think it’s exciting, and it’s a fairly diverse, broad set of folks being brought under the umbrella to make this happen.”

Boland, of Hertz Equipment, looks at places like Silicon Valley, once farmland that evolved into a hightech, start-up, entrepreneurial mecca. “Cities re-invent themselves and go through creative destruction every day. This area has a great chance to reinvent itself,” Boland says. GB

Momentum Keeps Building for Community Colleges to Confer Baccalaureate Degrees

By | News

Graduation Scroll and Book Stack

A decade ago, 14 states allowed their community colleges to confer baccalaureate degrees, a bold, sometimes controversial departure from the colleges’ tradition of conferring two-year associate degrees and skills-based certificates. Over the ensuing 10 years, despite opponents’ concerns about “mission creep” and invading the turf of four-year colleges and universities, the higher-education world did not stop spinning. Instead, the number of states on board has increased to 22, with California most recently joining the ranks last September, after Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill approving a pilot program involving up to 15 community colleges.

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