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Graduate Tampa Bay: Fueling Local Economy By Degrees

Graduate Tampa Bay launched Monday at the Teco Plaza in Tampa. - Julie Busch Branaman
Graduate Tampa Bay launched Monday at the Teco Plaza in Tampa. - Julie Busch Branaman
A 1 percent increase in the number of Tampa Bay residents with college degrees would result in an additional $3 billion  in increased productivity, innovation and social benefits to the region, according to CEOs for Cities, a national network of urban leaders on a mission to advance American cities.

That's why Graduate Tampa Bay, a new effort within the Tampa Bay Partnership's One Bay initiative, is leading local efforts to cash in on the Talent Dividend, a $1 million prize that CEOS for Cities is offering to the city/region that achieves the greatest success in increasing the number of degrees awarded to its residents.

"It’s all about the economic health of our region,'' says Ken Atwater, president of Hillsborough Community College and chair of the Graduate Tampa Bay Advisory Council. By 2018 it's predicted that 50 percent of jobs in the U.S. will require some sort of college degree. "Education today is not a choice, but a necessity,'' adds Atwater. Additional benefits to the region include better citizenship, reduction in crime and improved healthcare.

Atwater, University of South Florida President Judy Genshaft, St. Petersburg College President Bill Law, Saint Leo University President Arthur Kirk, Pasco-Hernando Community College President Katherine M. Johnson, Polk State College President Eileen Holden, Dean Lynn Kohler of DeVry University and business leaders John Ramil of TECO and Dan Mahurin of SunTrust gathered Monday to announce a collaborative effort among higher ed, business and community leaders to help more people earn college degrees.

It's All About Collaboration

This collaboration is well underway, as was evidenced by the presence of so many college and university presidents at the launch of Graduate Tampa Bay. "We’re united like never before,'' says Genshaft.

One example of a local collaboration is a partnership between TECO and Hillsborough Community College. An Associate in Applied Science in Industrial Management degree is offered to TECO employees through on-the-job training and courses taught on site by HCC faculty. Since its inception in 2007, 90 students have obtained degrees through this program. David Ware, a current TECO manager taking advantage of the program, is grateful for the opportunity. After quitting school in the mid-80s, he decided to return to finish his degree in 2010. His motivation was partly driven by the availability of this program and support from TECO, but also by wanting to set an example for his college-aged son.

For others, motivation comes from a different place. Richard Mullin, a recent graduate of Pasco Hernando Community College, returned to school to escape from being homeless and living out of a car. For him, going back to school was about quality of life. "I felt that I was meant for more,'' says Mullin. He is now deciding between three universities to pursue his bachelor’s degree.

According to a recent study by Georgetown University, individuals with bachelor's degrees are paid 84 percent more during their lifetimes than those with just a high school diploma. This translates to around $1 million in additional lifetime earnings. Those with college degrees are also less likely to be unemployed and will rebound faster from downsizing.

$1 Million Prize

Three metropolitan areas in Tampa Bay are competing for the $1 million Talent Dividend Prize: Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater, Bradenton-Sarasota-Venice and Lakeland-Winter Haven. The Graduate Tampa Bay campaign is heading up the collaborative efforts of all three areas, and focuses on the nearly 700,000 residents who have completed some college coursework short of earning a degree.

To achieve the 1 percent increase, the region will need to produce an additional 30,000 degrees. The campaign includes resources for those wanting to finish school, including information about the value of a degree, how to get started and links to financial aid options. They're also working with local businesses to encourage them to provide assistance for employees wanting to finish school. 

Local efforts to achieve the goal can be seen across Tampa Bay at almost all institutions. USF launched an RN to B.S. degree program in the College of Nursing that provides an entirely online curriculum to assist nurses with obtaining a bachelor’s degree.

Local state colleges are collaborating on a $15 million grant for education in manufacturing fields such as CAD and LEAN manufacturing. Saint Leo University’s center in downtown Tampa provides working professionals with the convenience they need to be able to attend school. Companies like SunTrust Bank are using the Graduate Tampa Bay campaign to encourage their employees to take advantage of tuition reimbursement programs.

ChappellRoberts is heading up the creative aspect of the Graduate Tampa Bay campaign. "The talent that is grown and nurtured within Tampa Bay is not only our future workforce, it's the future of the strength of our region,'' says Colleen Chappell, president and CEO of ChappellRoberts.

Megan Hendricks is a native Floridian and longtime Tampa Bay resident who loves the culture and diversity of the region. In her free time she enjoys local restaurants, thrift store shopping and spending time with her family. She earned her masters of business administration from USF Tampa. Comments? Contact 83 Degrees.
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