Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

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After DeSantis Veto, LEAP Tampa Bay Keeps College Completion Program Alive

Columbia County-FGC: Not part of the FL College Access Network

TAMPA, FL – Going back to school as an adult has many challenges, but LEAP Tampa Bay is helping local students complete their degree with free personalized coaching.

The new initiative at LEAP Tampa Bay mirrors what used to be a statewide program called Complete Florida Plus. Gov. Ron DeSantis vetoed the more than $29 million budget for the virtual program designed to help the state's almost 3 million adult college students.

Matt Smith worked for Complete Florida, and is now managing LEAP's coaching program.

"Basically what I've learned is that when a student has somebody that they can always either reach out to or have a specific contact, they feel more emboldened to actually completing their degree," Smith said.

Funded mostly by a grant from the Lumina Foundation, LEAP Tampa Bay aims to pay particular attention to creating opportunities and removing barriers for the region's Black, Hispanic and low-income populations.

A 2017 American Community Survey by the U.S. Census Bureau estimated about 330,000 adults in the Tampa Bay region have earned some college credit, but never completed their degree. Smith said that experience is common, and the reasons vary.

"A lot of times, students kind of slip through the cracks just because, A: they either have a life experience come about, or B: maybe they just didn't have a good experience, because maybe they couldn't contact an individual at a school based off of what was going on for them," he said.

Smith said the program works with several local education partners including the University of South Florida, Hillsborough Community College, St. Petersburg College, Hillsborough Technical Colleges and Pinellas Technical College.

Florida College Access Network

LEAP Tampa Bay is one of the 13 local college access networks in Florida.

Local College Access Networks are community based coordinating bodies that are supported by a team of community and education leadership team representing K-12 school districts, higher education, nonprofits, local government, business and economic development, and philanthropy.

"These collaborative networks are committed to increasing college and career readiness, access, and completion rates for students within their communities who are outside the mold of the traditional college student, such as low-income students, adult learners, and those who are the first in their families to attend college. LCAN members work together to better coordinate and leverage resources that lower the barriers preventing students from completing their educations beyond high school." (LCAN website)

Florida College Access Network information added by the Observer

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