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Business Brief: Jax Chamber Program Helps More People Get College Degrees, Certificates

Students graduating
Alan Light via Flickr

Getting more people qualified for the workforce is the goal of a Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce program called Earn Up. Its efforts recently earned the Chamber a competitive national grant of $40,000 to expand its reach.

As WJCT business analyst John Burr tells News Director Jessica Palombo, Earn Up’s goal is for just under two-thirds of adults to have college degrees or certifications by the year 2025.

John sat down with Tina Wirth, the workforce development vice president at Jax Chamber.

She said, when the program started here two years ago, Jacksonville ranked 72nd out of the top 100 metro areas in the country for number of people with college degrees, at 36 percent. Wirth says that has increased to 38 percent, and she expects it to hit 40 percent when new numbers are tabulated in the coming weeks. The goal is to hit 60 percent of the population of Northeast Florida with a post-secondary degree by 2025.

Burr says that’s an ambitious goal, but Wirth says it’s a necessary one, given the workforce needs of businesses in the area.

Earn Up targets high school students, adults with some college credits and, especially, military veterans. Wirth says 3,000 veterans leave the service each year in Jacksonville, and many of them are eligible to receive college credit for skills they learned in the military.

“A lot of colleges will give credit for prior learning,” she said. “So if you have an Army medic who’s got several years of experience in the field, he can probably get credit for a basic anatomy course. But that isn’t happening in any sort of consistent way at our various colleges, and the veterans aren’t aware that that option even exists.”

Earn Up acts as a convener, getting area colleges and businesses together to make sure they are on the same page for career preparation. What types of jobs do businesses need to fill most? Of course, there is a constant and growing need for Information technology skills, but Wirth said there are plenty of middle-level jobs that pay well and require just two-year degrees.

“EMTs right now in the state of Florida, after a two-year degree program, are coming out and they’re making between $48 [thousand] and $52 [thousand], and they don’t have email inboxes that haunt them at night,” she said. “There are some pathways that young people and adults who are working in low-wage jobs just don’t know about.”

With the new grant money from the Association ofChamber of Commerce Executives, Wirth says the program plans to step up outreach to high schoolers and adults with some college experience about the job prospects available, with a bit more education.  

Jessica Palombo supervises local news gathering and production, podcasts and web editorial content for WJCT News, ADAPT and Jacksonville Today. She is an award-winning writer and journalist with bylines including NPR, Experience Magazine, and The Gainesville Sun. She has a master’s degree in broadcast and digital journalism from Syracuse University and is an alumna of the University of Florida. A nearly lifelong resident of Jacksonville, she considers herself lucky to be raising her own children in her hometown. Follow Jessica Palombo on Twitter: @JaxJessicaP
WJCT Business Analyst John Burr is a veteran journalist who has been been directing news coverage and reporting in Jacksonville since 1983. He is currently also a news analyst for WJCT, where he can be heard regularly on the "First Coast Connect" media roundtable.