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FSU receives $1.3M Talent Search grant to improve college enrollment for students at Title I schools

Jan Waddy and Inika Williams

Florida State University received a $1.3 million federal grant to improve high school graduation and college enrollment rates for students at Title I schools in the Florida Panhandle.

FSU’s Center for Academic Retention and Enhancement (CARE) and FSU Panama City will launch a pre-college program with funding from the five-year Talent Search grant, part of the Federal TRIO Programs sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education. 

“This project is an exciting opportunity for FSU to integrate resources to expand learning opportunities for students in local schools while also developing a stronger college pipeline for students who would be the first in their family to attend college,” said Inika Pierre Williams, director of pre-collegiate programs and the project’s director.

The project will help support ongoing efforts to achieve educational equity for 500 students in Bay (Bay High School and Rutherford High School), Franklin (Franklin County High School), Holmes (Holmes County High School) and Leon counties (Amos P. Godby High School, Griffin Middle School and R. Frank Nims Middle School).  

Families who reside in the target communities experience higher than average rates of food and housing insecurity, and COVID-19 has intensified these issues. Some areas are in “Promise Zones,” a declaration by the Housing and Urban Development for zip codes in high poverty communities in need of economic relief and revitalization. 

“FSU Panama City looks forward to further collaboration with the Tallahassee campus to reach potential college students in our area high schools,” said David Henry, director of Enrollment and Student Success at FSU PC and co-director of the project. “The project supports our commitment to long-term accessibility of the University and student success.”

The project will offer in-school support, after-school mentoring and tutoring, college coaching, ACT and SAT prep services, and college tours. Students will be invited to the FSU Tallahassee and Panama City campuses once a month to participate in a coding camp in the fall and a leadership program in the spring. The project will also include a series of residential and day camps for six weeks in the summer. To be eligible for enrollment, students must be a citizen or permanent resident of the United States, a potential first-generation college student, and/or a low-income individual with a need for academic support.

The new funding from the Talent Search grant, combined with the federally funded Upward Bound project and state-funded College Reach-Out Program, will serve 800 students and families in Northwest Florida to achieve students’ dream of attaining a college education. 

“The Talent Search grant magnifies FSU Panama City’s continued mission to make higher education attainable for all students,” said Randy Hanna, dean of FSU Panama City. “We continue to deliver on the FSU PC Promise by removing financial barriers so students can achieve their educational goals.”

Participants who are residents of Northwest Florida and whose combined family and student income is less than $60,000 or are Pell-eligible are eligible to receive free tuition and fees through the FSU Panama City Promise Scholarship with funds provided by generous area donors. 

“Earning scholarships is more than just an accolade for hard work,” said FSU PC psychology student Isabella Barbour, ’22, one of 83 full-time undergraduate students who has received the FSU PC Promise Scholarship since it took effect in Spring 2021. “It is sometimes the only thing that stands between someone and completing their dream of a college education.”

Talent Search graduates also will be eligible to participate in the CARE Summer Bridge Program, a six-week college transition program for first-generation college students. The transition and orientation program offers free tuition and fees, on-campus room and board, health insurance, and books expenses for students’ first summer semester.

“As a nationally recognized entity for its support of first-generation college students, CARE is proud to continue being an advocate for and contributor to the college-going culture in Northwest Florida,” said DeOnte Brown, assistant dean of undergraduate studies and director of CARE. “The services made possible by this funding will have lasting impact not just for the students but for their families and communities.”