Florida College System’s chancellor Madeline Pumariega on Wednesday, Nov. 1, announced Valencia College as a winner of the Chancellor’s Best Practices Award. Chancellor Pumariega recognized Valencia for its “Got College?” initiative, which was spearheaded by Kathleen Plinske, president of Valencia’s Osceola, Poinciana and Lake Nona campuses.
The “Got College?” initiative set out to improve the college-going rate in Osceola County, which in 2010 ranked 61st out of 67 counties in the state. In April 2013, Valencia College convened the School District of Osceola County, the Education Foundation of Osceola County and 150 members of the community to discuss the challenges underscoring the county’s straggling college-going rate. The group identified problems such as access to transportation, inability to pay for application fees, and a language barrier for parents of prospective students.
The “Got College?” initiative approached the hurdles with an actionable plan: dispatching college student ambassadors to local public schools; bringing all Osceola School District students to Valencia’s Osceola Campus for tours sponsored by the Celebration Foundation; and requesting that the University of Central Florida offer more majors at its regional campus at Valencia Osceola.
The efforts have bolstered — if not catalyzed — an increase in the college-going rate among recent high school graduates. According to the Florida Department of Education’s High School Feedback report, which details the college-going rate across the state’s 67 counties, the percentage of Osceola County high school graduates who enroll in college has increased from 40 percent in 2010 to 48.6 percent in 2015, moving Osceola County up to 27th in the state. The percentage of Osceola School District graduates that go to Valencia has increased from 27.1 to 37.1 percent in that same 5-year timespan.
In 2017, Valencia continues to increase access to higher education in Osceola County. The college’s new Poinciana Campus opened in the fall semester, offering credit courses for A.S. and A.A. degrees, as well as continuing education through language courses and accelerated skills training.
In July 2017, the college announced a new free rides agreement with the Central Florida Transit Authority that covers LYNX bus fares for all Valencia students and employees. Earlier in the year, in preparation for the new campus, Valencia hosted a series of “college navigation workshops,” following a $15,000 contribution from the AT&T Foundation which provided families with bilingual counseling and waivers for application fees.
“I am so proud of our community’s ‘Got College?’ efforts to increase educational attainment levels in Osceola County,” said Plinske in a statement following the chancellor’s announcement. “Since 2010, Osceola County’s college-going rate has increased by one-fifth, demonstrating the success of our collective efforts to reduce the barriers that historically have prevented many students from going to college.”
Valencia shares the “Best Practice” honor with Tallahasseee Community College, Santa Fe College and Eastern Florida State College.