The Florida Chamber Foundation is teaming up with the Florida Prepaid College Foundation to help new high school graduates in low-income areas pay for college.
Under the Path to Prosperity Scholarship Program, the two foundations will provide up to $20 million in college scholarships to children from Florida’s lowest income families. Of that, $10 million will come from Florida businesses while the Florida Prepaid College Foundation provides a dollar-for-dollar match.
“The joint program reflects our aligned mission — the mission of the Chamber and the Florida Prepaid College Foundation — to create a future of opportunity within our state, one child at a time, and one college education at a time,” Florida Prepaid College Foundation chairman John Rood said.
Rood said research shows children who have the means and expectation to attend college are two-and-a-half times more likely to graduate from college.
The partnership is part of the recently announced Florida Equality of Opportunity Initiative, which was launched to put the Florida Chamber’s poverty, literacy and inclusion efforts under one roof.
Kyle Baltuch, who leads the Equality of Opportunity Initiative, said the scholarships have the potential “to transform neighborhoods, to educate the future leaders of these communities, to break the cycle of generational poverty.”
The Chamber has spent the last few years focused on how business can help grow the state’s economy from the 17th largest to the 10th largest in the world, if measured as a country. Combatting generational poverty through post-secondary education — whether college or skills-training programs — is a major facet of their game plan.
Currently, about 830,000 Florida children, or 20%, are living in poverty. The Florida Chamber hopes to cut that number in half over the next 10 years, and while their efforts are statewide, more than half of poverty stricken children live in just 15% of Florida’s 983 zip codes.
“If these zip code level gaps are not addressed, Florida will struggle in our effort to move from the 17th largest economy in the world if we were a country to the 10th largest economy in the world by 2030,” Florida Chamber president and CEO Mark Wilson said.
Rood added, “To the children in these zip codes, a college foundation sends a powerful message that they have a chance to succeed. And we believe in them, and that their future is not defined by their current circumstances.”
The initiative will see Florida Prepaid work with schools in priority zip codes to find eligible students. To qualify, a student must come from a low-income family and commit to remaining crime and drug free. The scholarships could be used at any Florida college or university.
Also on hand for the news conference was a current Florida Prepaid recipient, Carissa Iszard, who said her scholarship was a game-changer.
“My great grandmother from a young age instilled in me that my job as a child and a teenager was to work hard in school and put maximum effort in everything school-related. Even though my great grandmother did not attend college, I knew from her lessons that a college education was a path I needed to take if I want it to be successful in life,” said Iszard, who attends Florida State University.
“My journey toward a successful career is possible with this scholarship because my grandmother does not have to worry about finding the funds for tuition, and I can focus on my studies instead of worrying about balancing work with education.”
According to the Florida Department of Education, about 52% of graduates in the class of 2020 were classified as economically disadvantaged.
“That’s about 97,000 students who may just be in need of an opportunity to assist them on their path toward prosperity,” Wilson said.
Businesses interested in learning more about the Path to Prosperity Scholarship Program or donating can do so online.