Polk State College is celebrating a successful 2019 thanks to the Polk County Legislative Delegation, and the College is optimistic ahead of the 2020 Legislative Session that the support of local legislators will ensure continued access to a Polk State education for all residents of Polk County, including those served at the College’s Lake Wales Campus.
As President of the College, I am grateful to Polk County’s delegates for recently meeting with me as well as Polk State students in Tallahassee to hear their powerful testimonies and to learn more about the needs of our diverse population.
Representatives Melony Bell, Colleen Burton, Sam Killebrew, Mike La Rosa, and Josie Tomkow, and Senator Ben Albritton and Senator Kelli Stargel continue to support our students and hear their concerns, specifically regarding funding for the Polk State JD Alexander Center – the Lake Wales Campus – and the need to bolster student services College wide.
Giselle Araujo, a Polk State Lakeland Collegiate High School student, is the daughter of immigrants and the first generation in her family to attend college in the United States. She represented 33 percent of Polk State students who identify as the first generations in their families to attend college. They may not have the support system, resources, or experienced mentors at home to help them navigate the academic environment. “My advisors opened the doors for me,” she said. “With more support, more students will receive the guidance they need to be successful.”
Brianna Sutton, a Polk State Associate in Arts student, shared the importance of the Lake Wales Campus in getting her start at the College when she began to transition careers and was a newly single mother. She is one of 1,100 students served annually at the campus, where the student population is 53 percent ethnic minority and 66 percent female. Lake Wales students are financially in need with 47 percent receiving need-based federal Pell grants and transportation disadvantaged similar to 38 percent of Polk residents. The closest public universities are within 60 to 90 minutes in driving time from the Lake Wales Campus, and the College’s Winter Haven and Lakeland main campuses are between 30 and 40 minutes away. “A whole community depends on this campus,” she said.
Febie-Anna Joseph, a Bachelor of Applied Science in Supervision and Management student, illustrated the College’s positive impact on students in all stages of their lives as a recipient of a Fancelli Family Scholarship who attended Kids at College before dual enrolling at Polk State. She reinforced the critical role of Polk State in many facets of Polk County. “An investment in Polk State helps everyone in the community,” she said. This statement rings true, with the College boasting the second highest job placement and continuing education rate in the Florida College System at 96.9 percent, and with 70 percent of Polk State students remaining in Polk County after graduation.
The members of the Polk County Legislative Delegation assured the students that they understand the importance of securing funding to enhance student services. The ability to lessen the advisor-to-student ratio would allow students more time to have meaningful conversations with staff about their academic and career pathways. Additionally, they expressed their sincere support of Polk State’s Lake Wales Campus and of not only maintaining, but also expanding access to affordable, quality higher education throughout Polk County.
I am thrilled that our local delegation dedicates time to meeting with Polk State’s students. As Polk State Associate in Arts student Yohan Kim said, the experience allowed our students to “see the big picture, to learn the process, and to have our voices heard.” I could not be more proud of our student leaders for representing the College in Tallahassee or more thankful to the Polk County Legislative Delegation for hearing their needs ahead of the 2020 Legislative Session. Together, we will continue to transform lives and propel our community forward into a bright future.