America faces an urgent and growing need for talent, specifically among adults 25 to 64 with postsecondary degrees or credentials qualified to fill high-wage, high-skill job openings anticipated by 2025. Florida’s Higher Education Coordinating Council (HECC), a council with representation from all sectors of higher education, K-12, and business/industry leaders that helps facilitate coordination between educational systems and workforce needs, understands that the most powerful indicator of economic development and healthy communities is educational attainment, and is committed to ensuring Florida has the talent needed to meet the growing economy and population. On November 28, 2016, the council approved a motion to establish a statewide attainment goal of 55 percent to be reached by the year 2025 (Florida is currently at 48.3 percent, including a 7 percent estimate for high-quality workforce degrees from Lumina Foundation’s Stronger Nation Report).
Following adoption of the attainment goal, Lumina Foundation awarded the Florida College System Foundation, on behalf of HECC, with $100,000 under its Attainment Challenge Grant program that is designed to develop and implement evidence-based policies to improve student success, close equity gaps, and reach a robust postsecondary attainment goal. In addition to the Lumina Foundation grant, the Helios Education Foundation awarded an additional $100,000 through the Helios Florida Partnership for Attainment Match Grant to support the council’s attainment efforts.
To build stakeholder support networks and identify champions to increase educational attainment and its importance for the State of Florida, the council adopted four strategies to conduct this work: 1) research, 2) statewide convenings, 3) regional convenings, and 4) communications and outreach (see Figure 1). The efforts of these activities culminated in the online Rise to 55 Toolkit for Increasing Educational Attainment, a compilation of materials to assist leaders (representing areas such as K-12, higher education, nonprofit, philanthropy, local government, and business) in launching, strengthening and deepening local, regional, and statewide attainment efforts. The toolkit features materials created and used by the Higher Education Coordinating Council and partners through Attainment Completion Grants funded by Lumina Foundation, Helios Education Foundation, and CareerSource Florida. The toolkit is also supplemented by relevant resources from the Florida College Access Network and other organizations, where appropriate.
Figure 1. HECC Strategies to Increase Attainment
The goal of the research strategy was to make the case for increasing attainment in Florida and solidify Florida’s attainment goal. The research garnered in this strategy has been used to inform publications that will help regional stakeholders understand their current localized status while also serving as the catalyst points for conversations about best practices that may need to be employed to improve educational attainment. Also, an attainment projections model was developed that allows users to estimate the impact of adjustments/improvements in key ratios on attainment, including percentage of population completing high school, percentage of HS graduates going to postsecondary, public/private share of postsecondary, and percentage of postsecondary entrants who complete.
The goals of the statewide convening strategy were to educate, make a case for increasing attainment, and gain buy-in from key education stakeholders from K-12 through postsecondary. The intent was that convening participants would champion attainment in their local stakeholder’s groups and participate, where appropriate, in regional convenings and strategy sessions around attainment. Though increasing attainment requires more than just looking at the education pipeline, it is imperative to collaborate with the districts and institutions to increase both the number of credentials and pathways to quality credentials to meet the attainment goal.
The goals of this strategy were to educate, make the case for increasing attainment, and gain buy-in from cross-sector education and business leaders across the state. This activity was meant to broaden the attainment conversation beyond the education sphere and fully engage the community voice by collaborating with existing organizations across the state such as the Florida College Access Network and the local college access networks, Florida Philanthropic Network, Florida Chamber of Commerce, and the Florida Council of 100. The intent was that these meetings would serve as a catalyst to spark local momentum around attainment and engage with partner organizations, like the Florida College Access Network, to develop work plans to increase attainment.
Communications and Outreach
The Florida College System Foundation, on behalf of HECC, contracted with a communications firm to produce a marketing strategy and materials to support outreach activities, convenings, and local work- plan efforts. The “Rise to 55” logo and templates for publications were developed to communicate information and activities of the attainment work. A template for invitations and meeting packets were developed. These templates are included in the online toolkit for increasing educational attainment so other regions may adopt and adapt them, based on local needs. The firm also coordinated the issuance of press releases and media outreach for statewide and regional convenings to engage communities and raise awareness of Florida’s attainment goal.
Attainment Innovation Partnership Awards
HECC issued an Invitation to Apply for the Attainment Innovation Partnership Awards to recognize both existing partnerships that strengthen and deepen attainment work, as well as new partnerships looking for seed funding to kick off regional attainment efforts. Eleven regions across the state of Florida submitted proposals: six for existing partnerships and five for new partnerships. Criteria for awards included: strength of partner organizations and partnerships, strong demonstrated need, target population of hard-to-serve or returning adults, and innovative approach to closing attainment gaps. All 11 regions received awards ranging in size from $750 to $7,500. Recipients will be asked to attend a future HECC meeting to discuss progress on regional attainment efforts.
Regional Key Drivers and Work Plans
After the regional convenings, each group received a localized report focused on “Key Drivers of Educational Attainment” with next steps to increase attainment in their region and inclusive of the key takeaways from the conversation that occurred during the convening. Leaders across the state are encouraged to review the strategies and suggest action steps to prioritize activities as they consider starting or strengthening attainment efforts. Identifying additional strategies and action steps is encouraged to ensure the efforts meet the local needs. It is also beneficial to identify the timelines and expected outcomes for each action step.
Eric Godin is an Associate Vice President with the State Higher Education Executive Officers Association. He was formerly the Associate Vice Chancellor for Research & Analytics for the Florida College System.