Graduate Tampa Bay: The College Advantage

With the latest research driving home the value of a college degree more than ever, national and local groups continue to make headway in increasing educational attainment.

"Talent is one of the most important commodities we have,'' says Jamie Merisotis, president and CEO of the Lumina Foundation, as he kicked off a panel discussion titled "The College Advantage.'' The discussion took place in August in Ybor City during the Republican National Convention. The panel was also present during the Democratic National Convention in September in Charlotte, with the purpose of drawing attention to the economic advantage of post-secondary degrees. 

Panelists included Dr. Anthony Carnevale, director and research professor at Georgetown University's Center on Education and the Workforce; Mick Fleming, president of American Chamber of Commerce Executives; Teresa Lubbers, Indiana Commissioner for Higher Education; Dr. Eduardo Padron, president of Miami Dade College; Jamie Merisotis, president and CEO of the Lumina Foundation; and Aaron Smith, co-founder and executive director of Young Invincibles (an advocacy group for young Americans).

The Lumina Foundation was established in 2000 with the purpose of increasing students' access to and success in postsecondary education. Their mission, also known as Goal 2025, is to increase the percentage of Americans who hold high quality degrees and credentials to 60 percent by the year 2025. This would be a 50 percent increase from the current rate of 40 percent.

The foundation is also a sponsor of the national Talent Dividend competition hosted by CEOs for Cities, which has more than 50 metropolitan areas competing for a $1 million prize for the highest increase in educational attainment by 2013. Three metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs) in Tampa Bay are part of the competition, headed up by the Tampa Bay Partnership: Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater; Bradenton-Sarasota-Venice; and Lakeland-Winter Haven.

Local Progress For Tampa Bay

According to data from the 2010 census, the overall average number of people in Tampa Bay with a post-secondary degree is 33.4 percent, which is just under the national average of 38.3 percent. Local groups are working to increase this statistic with the Graduate Tampa Bay campaign, which encourages those who have completed some college coursework to go back and complete their degrees.
Ken Atwater, Graduate Tampa Bay chair and Hillsborough Community College (HCC) president, has the goal of increasing HCC's graduation rate by 50 percent by the year 2020. Progress is already being made, with the 2011-2012 graduating class of 5,464 being the largest in the institution's history. 

Local community colleges continue to work with four-year colleges and universities for a more seamless transfer process. HCC, along with Pasco-Hernando Community College and St. Petersburg College signed an agreement with the University of South Florida (USF) last year that guarantees graduates of Florida's two-year institutions admission to USF. 

Polk Vision, a community partnership of educational institutions, government, businesses and individuals hosted a meeting in August to discuss ways to increase graduation rates in Polk County. The group discussed potential fast track options for those who are interested in completing their degrees quickly. Actions steps are currently being developed to help companies encourage their employees to finish school.

The Florida College Access Network, a statewide network based in Tampa that works to improve educational preparation, access and completion, hosted the Florida Goal 2025 College Access & Success Summit in May at USF. The discussion focused on making education more accessible through the use of technology and online learning.

The Value Of A Degree

These efforts are fueled by research, such as a study released earlier in 2012 by Georgetown University. The study, titled "The College Advantage'' looked at the effect the recession, and subsequent recovery, had on the value of college degrees.

The results were overwhelmingly positive, particularly at the bachelor's degree level.

Nearly 200,000 jobs for workers with at least a bachelor's degree were added to the economy during the recession. In fact, the number of jobs for bachelor's degrees or higher was never negative. For those with associate's degrees, 1.75 million jobs were lost. Jobs for those with a high school diploma or less fared far worse, losing 5.6 million jobs altogether during the recession.

Things started looking up during the recovery, with 2 million jobs gained for those with a bachelor's degree or better. For people with associate's degrees or some college, nearly all of the jobs lost were gained back. On the contrary, jobs for people with a high school diploma or less lost 230,000 jobs during the recovery (as of February 2012). 
"The economy we're moving into is different than the economy we left behind,'' says Anthony Carnevale, director and research professor for the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce.
The panel agreed, noting that credentials of value will be the currency of our future economy.

Megan Hendricks is a Florida native 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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Read more articles by Megan Hendricks.

A Florida native and longtime Tampa Bay resident, Megan Hendricks graduated from the University of South Florida with a master's degree in business administration. She worked at the USF College of Business and has extensive community experience including the Tampa Bay Partnership's Talent Dividend Advisory Board, Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce, Emerge Tampa Bay, Ekhos, and Bar Camp Tampa. She is a former board member and newsletter editor for Creative Tampa Bay. Megan enjoys telling the stories that make Tampa Bay a unique, diverse cultural experience.