A new program in Osceola County, Florida, will offer every graduating high school senior from the county this year the chance to attend Valencia College, a NASFAA member institution, free of charge thanks to a partnership with the county that is funded in part by federal coronavirus funds.
No-cost tuition at both Valencia College — the county’s local community college — and Osceola Technical College is made possible through the Osceola Prosper program and is available to all of the 2022 graduating class from any Osceola County high school, including public, private, charter, and homeschool graduates.
“Rather than just providing one semester of funding, they recognized the need to really help guarantee college education for the students of Osceola County,” said Daniel Barkowitz, an FAAC® and the assistant vice president for financial aid and veterans affairs at Valencia College. “This program is very unique in that it really is a county-college partnership.”
Barkowitz and Valencia College President Kathleen Plinske credit the foresight of the Osceola County Commission, which helped launch the one-year program with roughly $12 million from the American Rescue Plan Act that was allocated to the county.
“We know that there are a number of employers in our community that are struggling to find individuals with the skills that they are looking for for jobs that are in high demand,” Plinske said. “This program will make it possible for students in the class of 2022 to earn those skills and credentials.”
The program couldn’t come at a better time, Barowitz and county leaders say, as the pandemic has led to enrollment declines across the country and retaining and recruiting students in higher education is of paramount importance.
“The pandemic has had a disastrous effect on college enrollments, especially in the community college sector,” Barkowitz added. “So this kind of partnership is a step forward, aimed at students who couldn't realize the dream of the college because they themselves are facing the economic reality.”
The program builds off the more than $1.3 million the county allocated last year for all incoming Valencia students in the form of $500 scholarships, which lead to a significant boost in enrollments even amid the pandemic. The hope is that the promise program builds on those gains.
Barkowitz pointed to the relatively low threshold for entry for students that will further encourage them to enroll in a postsecondary institution next academic year when their high school career is over.
To be eligible for the Osceola Prosper Program, students must register for at least one course or an Osceola Technical Program at either Valencia College or Osceola Technical College in the summer, fall, or spring semesters and complete at least 12 credit hours per academic year. Additionally, students must complete the FAFSA and maintain a GPA of at least 2.0. If a student's GPA drops below 2.0 for four consecutive semesters, students will lose eligibility for the program, according to an FAQ document.
“The reality is that for many of the students who could benefit from this program, full-time enrollment just isn't possible, whether that’s because they need to support their families, or they need to figure out how to make this work with the rest of their life,” Barkowitz said.
While the program is funded only for the graduating class of 2022 with the coronavirus relief funds, college leaders hope the county will see the positive impact and find a way to continue it into the future. Those involved say making it available in future years hinges on the number of students who take advantage of the program this year, and the availability of future funds.
Publication Date: 3/30/2022