Expanding offerings to extend opportunity

Angela Garcia Faconetti, president of Polk State College in Florida, chats with students. (Photo: PSC)

Polk State College is dedicated to providing affordable, accessible higher education to the residents of Florida’s Polk County and has done so for more than 50 years. As the needs of our community have shifted, Polk County’s state college has grown, expanding its traditional offerings of associate degrees and certifications to include quality baccalaureate degree programs.

We know that we are often the primary, if not the only, point of access to higher education for people within our community. We know we must also remain on the cutting edge of filling the needs of our local businesses and industries who are increasingly seeking highly skilled, knowledgeable employees and leaders with higher degrees.

This excerpt comes from the April/May issue of AACC’s Community College Journal.

It is critical for colleges to connect students to higher education and career opportunities by meeting them where they are, providing access and equity for all to transform their lives through the power of higher education.

Promoting student, economic success

In 2010, Polk State launched its first baccalaureate degree program, giving students who may not otherwise have the opportunity to pursue their bachelor’s degrees the ability to achieve their higher education and career goals at an affordable cost close to home.

The college now offers six baccalaureate degree programs in the areas of aerospace sciences, criminal justice, early childhood education, elementary education, nursing and supervision and management. Each program was developed in close collaboration with Polk State’s industry partners to address workforce needs specific to Polk County, allowing hundreds of students to achieve bachelor’s degrees each academic year in areas actively seeking employees.

It’s important to illustrate what Polk State’s baccalaureate degree-seeking students look like. In 2017-2018, 73 percent attended part time, 67 percent were female, 41 percent were from ethnic minority groups, and 34 percent were older than 35. Our baccalaureate students are working adults who are balancing their studies with responsibilities including full-time jobs and raising families.

Additionally, only 18.8 percent of individuals 25 and older in Polk County have bachelor’s degrees or higher. Compared to Florida’s 27.3 percent and the nation’s 29.7 percent, the data make it clear that offering local, affordable access to baccalaureate degree programs is not only necessary to serve local businesses and working families, but also critical to promoting the economic success of Polk County.

The college’s newest baccalaureates launched in August 2016 after the University of South Florida exited the county and as the need for qualified teachers has continued to increase. With degrees in early childhood education and elementary education, the program has already seen great success, graduating its first class in December 2018 with all graduates accepting teaching positions with Polk County Public Schools.

Read the full article in CCJournal.

About the Author

Angela Garcia Faconetti
is president of Polk State College in Winter Haven, Florida.