Spurring Socio-Economic Mobility in Two Florida Counties
Location: 5 campuses and 1 center in Florida’s Pasco and Hernando counties
Total enrollment: 11,500 students
Number of employees: 948
Percentage of female students: 67%
Pasco-Hernando State College serves two counties where the median wage is lower than in the nearest large metro areas, St. Petersburg and Tampa. In Pasco County, the median wage is $50,417; in Hernando County, it’s $46,030, more than $7,000 below the Florida median wage.
The college’s mission is straightforward about addressing this gap “by providing affordable, accessible, and diverse educational experiences that empower students to achieve academic success, personal enrichment, and socio-economic advancement.” One of its recent successes is a $6.1 million Florida Job Growth Grant awarded in the fall of 2021 toward constructing a new technical training complex. In addition, the college partnered on the application with the Hernando County School District and the Hernando County government. This partnership garnered the necessary input from local manufacturers.
Achieving higher annual wages across an entire region is a complex challenge that no single entity can resolve alone. However, Pasco-Hernando State College can contribute in specific ways. For example, helping to increase the number of small businesses in the community. They do this by scaling the capacity to provide entrepreneurship education and training.
The college currently offers a certificate in entrepreneurship as well as non-credit courses through a corporate college model. Broadening these options—and reaching community members who are not interested in seeking a college education but could still benefit from an entrepreneurial mindset—led PHSC to seek out a new approach to developing organizational capacity and enhancing students’ learning and experiences.
This is a major area of focus for Sonia Rodriguez Thorn. She is Assistant Vice President of Academic Affairs, who has been with PHSC for 27 years. She described various initiatives the college is undertaking. For example, they have adopted a new entrepreneurship competition to provide seed money to startup companies or a new community-wide speaker series for Entrepreneurship Week. The college also collaborates with the National Association for Community College Entrepreneurship to provide financial support from their venture fund. PHSC has also added a maker space at its Brooksville campus. The college is also looking to replicate it at the college’s four other campuses. However, students will need to build the critical thinking and problem-solving skills that are so crucial for entrepreneurs in order to take advantage of these opportunities.
PHSC partnered with the Entrepreneurial Learning Initiative on a train-the-educator program based on its Entrepreneurial Mindset Facilitator Training to build its internal capacity for entrepreneurship education and training. One of the initiative’s key leaders is James Myers, Assistant Professor of Business Administration, who came to PHSC in 2020. Myers previously worked with ELI President Rob Herndon at Pikes Peak Community College in Colorado. He is passionate about the practical application of ELI’s definition of entrepreneurship. That is the self-directed opportunity to create value for others. “Entrepreneurship is not easily defined,” Myers explained. “It’s not about technical skills. It’s about understanding others and emotional intelligence.”
Myers is helping PHSC build an eight-module in-house training to introduce faculty to the entrepreneurial mindset. He helped revamp the Introduction to Entrepreneurship course on the academic side to incorporate ELI’s Ice House Entrepreneurship Program. The new version launched in the fall of 2021, both in-person and online.
HOW THEY ARE USING IT:
The course is exploratory and interactive, with lessons geared toward critical thinking about students’ environments and interests. “At least once a session, I use the phrase ‘tolerance for ambiguity,’ because not everything is laid out,” Myers says. “I want students to come up with solutions and give them to me in whatever format works, whether that’s a video or PowerPoint or written presentation.” He shares his own experiences—from his first business mowing lawns at age 12 to his current co-ownership of a brewery—and he invites guest speakers to share their stories of both successes and failures.
“Before, the model was ‘I have this great idea, and it’s going to work,’” Myers said. “But students never tested their ideas.” Now they are assigned to solve a problem or tackle an issue within their community. They explore it from every angle, building an understanding of which solutions might work and which might not—and why.
The initial test run of the revamped Introduction to Entrepreneurship course in the fall of 2021 had approximately 30 students in person and 40 online. “It took a while for them to warm up to it because it’s not your typical class,” Myers said. The shift to critical thinking can be challenging for students who are accustomed to memorizing facts and regurgitating them for exams.
But he has also seen students initiate their own learning in ways they would never have imagined. For example, one student who started a pest control company during the course quickly realized that his clients needed other kinds of services like pressure washing, so he shifted his focus. “He had an idea, and he put it into action during the class,” Myers said. “It was a real-life experiment.”
The book “Who Owns the Ice House: Eight Life Lessons from an Unlikely Entrepreneur” is students’ primary reading assignment. It tells the story of Clifton Taulbert, an unlikely entrepreneur who overcame a series of challenges to start several successful businesses. Myers weaves book discussions together with more traditional lessons in accounting, finance, and management, but he says students find “Who Owns the Ice House” to be one of the most appealing aspects of the course.
WHAT THEY ARE SAYING:
“A lot of our students are disadvantaged,” Myers said, “and they relate to the story because he’s got a lot of obstacles, and he overcomes them with an entrepreneurial mindset. He’s not letting other people define him.”
Likewise, the staff and faculty response has been overwhelmingly positive. In the words of PHSC Professor of Paramedicine Dr. David Sullivan, “The Ice House is a metaphor for opportunities provided in life, and we all own it, in our own way. Deep inside our core is a level of grit and perseverance—we just need to find it and apply it to our dreams and motivation in life so we can succeed. Attending the Entrepreneurial Learning Initiative (ELI) facilitation training allowed me to enrich my potential as an educator and share the passion of vision and motivation with my students. A positive example in the classroom can be a spark for students to ignite their full potential for lifelong success!”