About 40 percent of Escambia County residents have earned some sort of college degree. A new organization wants to raise the bar.
Workers in Escambia County with an associate degree average just over $57,000 per year, according to the Florida College Access Network. Those with only a high school diploma average about $26,000.
“Achieve Escambia was founded almost two years ago by leaders in our business community who wanted a new way of approaching the kinds of long-term deep-changes we’re interested in making from cradle to career,” said Executive Director Kimberly Krupa.
The goal is to raise the number of those with at least a two-year associate degree to 60 percent by 2025. The Florida average is around 39 percent.
“We’re excited to get started,” Krupa said. “This is a long-term journey, [a] commitment of hundreds of people. We’ve got a really caring community of people who know what work we have to do, and our commitment to getting it done.”
The 60 percent figure is also the goal for the Florida College Access Network. A similar group’s mark to be reached in 2025 is a little more flexible.
“The State Higher Education Coordinating Council has what they call ‘Rise to 55,’” said Krupa. So we’re hoping between 55 percent and 60 percent postsecondary attainment is not only possible, but that the trends are heading in that direction.”
With three colleges in Escambia offering four-year courses, UWF, Pensacola State and Pensacola Christian, along with Northwest Florida State in Niceville and various satellite campuses, that 40 percent figure appears too low. But Krupa says it’s more than just degrees.
“An important part of this is being inclusive of alternatives to vocational and skills-based training,” Krupa said. “In that 60 percent attainment is not just the two-year and the four-year college degree, but alternative pathways to the middle class.”
Currently in society, four-year degrees remain what the Georgetown University Center on Education in the Workforce calls “a gold standard.”
“People with a four-year degree still have a competitive advantage,” said Krupa. “About a $15,000-20,000 income difference annually between a two-year degree and a four-year degree. And we need to change that.”
Part of that change heading towards their 2025 goal, says Krupa, is opening the door to vocational training programs that she says are now stigmatized with names such as “dead ends” and “a ceiling on your career.”
Achieve Escambia’s approach to meet the goal is a nuts-and-bolts cross-sector collaboration – local decisions to local challenges such as aligning the system beginning in middle school.
“Through that two-year degree or that technical certification, all the way up to the four-year [degree] and beyond,” Krupa said. “So the approach is improving the flow of information, building a network of partnerships, improving awareness on the value of a postsecondary degree or credential, and closing income earnings.”
Another tool in the toolbox is an effort to offer an incentive for high school students to graduate, Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or “FAFSA.” Krupa says a lot of education money is out there for the taking.
“Last year we left almost two million dollars on the table right here in Escambia County,” said Achieve Escambia’s Kim Krupa. “The FAFSA can be completed as early as October 1; it is the qualifier for Pell Grants. Most of the students who aren’t filling out the FAFSA qualify for Pell Grants. So it’s an access issue, it’s an awareness issue.”
More information about Achieve Escambia can be found at the group’s website, www.achieveescambia.com.