The community collective impact meeting on May 4th was, by any account, a huge success. Speakers included the Presidents of Palm Beach Atlantic University and Palm Beach State College, a Vice-President of Florida Atlantic University, a student from Delray Beach, the Executive Director of Florida College Access Network, the Mayor of Palm Beach County, the Superintendent of the Palm Beach County District School Board, the President of the Business Development Board and representatives from the business, faith-based, non-profit and philanthropic communities. We had about 60 people.
Despite all of the diverse speakers, the agenda was a simple one and we were able to conclude the meeting within the 2 hour envelope that we had promised. The idea was to make the case for a local college access network and ascertain the level of interest amongst a group of key community leaders.
Our meeting – and the planning that led up to it - was assisted greatly by the Florida College Access Network, which brings experience, data and a planning grant. The purpose of this LCAN is to raise high school graduation rates and post–secondary completion. Presently, a little over 40% of Palm Beach County residents have a meaningful post–secondary credential. “Meaningful” can be anything between a certificate in cosmetology to a PhD in engineering.
40% is a little better than the state and national average but this is only because so many affluent (and educated) retirees come to Palm Beach County. The completion rate for students coming through the system is in the mid-thirties and lags state and national averages. The goal is to increase the completion rate to 60% by 2025. The approach has similarities to Pathways to Education. For a glimpse at a robust local college access network, check out http://sayyesbuffalo.org/
Our meeting concluded with a call for volunteers to join a Leadership Council, which will set the direction for the Palm Beach LCAN and choose a backbone organization to execute. Over 24 people came forward and it is clear that this initiative will enjoy high level support from every sector of the community. Apart from the social justice issue, there is widespread recognition that the economic future of this area is tied to the quality of its workforce.
What is less clear is whether or not the community will be able to effectively harness this support to achieve the desired end.
Success will require two crucial elements. First, and most important, is effective leadership of the Leadership Council. Second is the availability of an inspired and competent backbone organization. There is no shortage of people or possibilities and the result will depend upon who steps forward and takes responsibility for getting this done.
Leading the LCAN initiative through its initial phase was a tax on the Foundation’s limited resources but the experience was beneficial in many ways. The Foundation will continue to support this initiative by participating in meetings and, with approval of the Grant Program Committee, do its part financially if and when that time comes. As a corollary to the LCAN, but of paramount importance to the Foundation, we will continue and advance our discussions with Take Stock in Children in an attempt to merge our respective scholarship programs and raise more community money to support them. Stay tuned.