In December 2017, Pinellas County community leaders met to discuss the state of education in the county.
They ended up commissioning a report looking at how to best educate students after high school. The group explored metrics related to college and career readiness, access and affordability, college performance and workforce and economic outcomes.
They also formed a group called LEAP Tampa Bay College Access Network, and it targets increasing the number of students who attain a college degree or industry certification.
That group includes, among others, the Pinellas Education Foundation, Florida College Access Network, and Foundation for a Healthy St. Petersburg. (Editor's Note: Some of the participants in the group are financial supporters of WUSF Public Media.)
LEAP Tampa Bay recently released new data that uncovers what the greatest factors are in regards to postsecondary access and attainment in Pinellas County.
Kimberly Lent, is a senior research associate for the Florida College Access Network, one of LEAP’s partners. She said the report analyzes more than 15 indicators related to postsecondary students success in Pinellas County.
“One of the things that we found particularly interesting was that Pinellas County has a pretty high rate of 'college going,' ” she said. “So students who graduated from high school in the year 2013- 14, 76 percent of graduates went on to some form of college or university. However they're not quite as successful when they get to college.
"So we have another indicator called early college success and this measures whether they are actually getting the credits they need to move on and eventually complete their degree. she said. "That rate is about 10 percent points lower than the college-going rate.”
Stacy Baier, president of the Pinellas Education Foundation, said the research also revealed barriers to student success which LEAP Tampa Bay can help address.
"That means things like FASFA completion. “Preparation is important for students succeeding in postsecondary education, so helping more students complete that application process so that they can find out what kind of aid that they're eligible for," Baier said.
"We also have some exciting work happening between the University of South Florida and St. Petersburg College and the University of South Florida and Hillsborough Community College on helping students through a program called FUSE - so students can understand what their pathway is into the four-year institution," she said. "When you show them that there's a very seamless process for them to get through their two-year degree and onto their four-year degree, you find that more students will ultimately obtain the four year degree."