Educational leaders working to improve county’s workforce

Educational leaders go over data contained in the Pinellas Community Indicator Report July 16. The group included people from business, education, philanthropy and government who want to improve college access and degree attainment in Pinellas.

CLEARWATER - A group of Pinellas County leaders and stakeholders would like to see more students continue their education past high school so they can have a better career. Economic studies show the region needs more well trained adults to meet its workforce demands.

LEAP Tampa Bay is leading the way in an effort to improve the numbers of residents with college degrees or industry certifications. LEAP has set a goal to up the number of working-age adults in the region with a degree or certification from 48 percent, which it is now, to 60 percent by 2025.

According to a press release, LEAP Tampa Bay is a cross-sector network of partners representing business, education, philanthropy and government who have established a community-wide commitment to college access and attainment in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties.

Sixty of the area’s educational leaders met July 16 at St. Petersburg College’s Collaborative Lab in Clearwater to go over a research report done by the Pinellas Education Foundation and Florida College Access Network.

The group first-met in December 2017 and explored 24 metrics related to post-secondary education. In the end, they decided to study 15 metrics to see how well Pinellas students were doing and how many were going to college.

The Pinellas Education Foundation with support from the Foundation for a Healthy St. Petersburg commissioned a research report. The results of that study, called the Pinellas Community Indicator Report, were the focus of the July 16 meeting.

Local leaders concede that not every student needs a four-year college degree to have a successful career, but the data shows that those who do invest in education past high school earn more over their lifetimes and are less likely to be unemployed. In addition, the job market for people with only a high school diploma is shrinking, the report said.

In 2016, Florida ranked 24th among all states in degree attainment. In Pinellas, 42 percent of working-age adults held a higher degree or credential, ranking the county No. 10 among the state’s 67 counties in degree attainment.

Degree attainment for working age adults went up between 2012 and 2016 in the U.S., the state and the county. Pinellas had a higher rate than the U.S. and the state, according to the report.

However, the report also showed that not all had an equal opportunity to pursue higher education. For some, factors, such as cost and college-readiness, made it an impossible dream.

“The insights from this report highlight for us the discrepancies that can exist in student success for underrepresented populations. When these results are made visible and are discussed by the broader community at these collaborative events, partnerships can emerge that can help close the achievement gaps. Collectively, we have greater opportunity to change lives in our community,” said Clerk of the Circuit Court Ken Burke, member of the Higher Education Coordinating Council, in a press release.

Metrics used in the study related to college and career readiness; access and affordability; college performance; workforce and economic outcomes; and degree attainment.

One of the results showed that more county residents, ages 25-64, have a higher educational attainment than other residents in Florida and the United States do; however, Pinellas has a higher percentage of adults with some college credits but no degree.

The study shows that college-going rates in the county differ by race and ethnicity, income status, and gender. Low-income residents were less likely to go to college, as were blacks and Native Americans. Males were less likely to go to college than females.

The vast majority of students in Pinellas attending college went to St. Petersburg College, 2087, followed by the University of South Florida, 376, and University of Florida, 248.

“The compilation of the data found in this report tells a story of complexity and nuance that is impacting people and organizations in multiple ways,” said Stacy Carlson, president of Pinellas Education Foundation. “It is this complexity that highlights the need for the variety of perspectives. Inequitable issues of access and success in postsecondary education didn’t happen overnight or because of the practice of one organization or one policy. Change will take the collective commitment of all of us to build a strong talent pipeline and greater economic prosperity for all.”

The report is available at https://www.leaptampabay.org/pinellas-student-success-indicators-report.

Suzette Porter is Tampa Bay Newspapers Pinellas County editor. She can be reached at sporter@tbnweekly.com.