Osceola County College-Going Rate Jumps to Fourth in State

Officials from Osceola County, along with Valencia College and the School District of Osceola County, are celebrating a milestone event: Osceola County students now rank fourth in the state for college attendance.

One year after graduating from high school, according to the Florida Department of Education, 63% of Osceola County high school students who graduated in 2022 were enrolled in college, a technical school or some form of post-secondary education in the state of Florida. That’s up from 47.3% for the class of 2019-20 and 48.1% for the class of 2020-21.

Osceola County historically has had the lowest college-going rate in Central Florida.  However, for the first time, Osceola County’s college-going rate (63%) has surpassed the state average (54%), as well as that of Orange County (which ranks 11th at 57%), and Seminole County (which ranks 9th at 59%).

County and local education officials attribute the increase to the county’s Osceola Prosper scholarship program. In 2022, Osceola County commissioners voted to use the county’s federal pandemic recovery funds to guarantee that every high school graduate in the county could attend Valencia College or Osceola Technical College for free.

The county commission launched Osceola Prosper after the COVID-19 pandemic devastated the local economy. In Osceola County, the unemployment rate hovered around 30% – among the highest in the state – and many other residents faced reduced work hours and incomes.

“Osceola Prosper is proof of the County Commission’s commitment to ensure our community’s economic vitality, so that future generations have many career paths available,” said Osceola County Commission Chair Cheryl Grieb. “This initiative is about empowering our young people – the bedrock of our future – with the opportunity to achieve their dreams.”

“This shows the power of a community coming together around a common goal and committing to partnership and collaboration,” said Kathleen Plinske, president of Valencia College. “Osceola County has been working on increasing access to education for more than a decade, and I am so proud what has been made possible for our youth.  This, in turn, is an investment in our community’s future.”

“I’m immensely proud to witness the tremendous increase in our college-going rate. This achievement speaks volumes about the dedication of our students and parents, the support and guidance given by our teachers and staff, and the incredible collaboration with the Osceola County Board of County Commissioners for Osceola Prosper and Valencia College,” said Osceola School District Superintendent Dr. Mark Shanoff.  “It reflects our collective commitment to preparing our youth for the opportunities and challenges of tomorrow. This milestone not only transforms individual lives but also strengthens the fabric of Osceola County, driving progress and prosperity for generations to come.”

Plinske, school district leaders and community members began turning their attention to the county’s college-going rate in 2013, when they launched “Got College?” – a multi-pronged effort to improve access to college for Osceola County residents.

The “Got College?” initiative set out to increase the county’s college-going rate, which in 2010 ranked 61st out of 67 counties in the state. According to the Florida Department of Education’s High School Feedback report, which tracks the college-going rate across the state’s 67 counties, the percentage of Osceola County high school graduates who enrolled in college increased from 40% in 2010 to 48.6% in 2015, moving Osceola County up to 27th in the state.

Osceola Prosper has built upon the gains made by “Got College?” to reach this milestone for the community, Plinske said.

“I am extraordinarily grateful to our Osceola County Commissioners for their visionary leadership and willingness to invest in Osceola Prosper, a program that is truly the only one of its kind,” Plinske said. “It is a powerful strategic investment in economic development that will attract employers and industry looking to find skilled talent – the results are already clearly starting to pay off.”