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Polk State College celebrated a successful end to the 2022 Legislative Session with Governor Ron DeSantis’ signing of the budget on Thursday which resulted in the largest appropriation in the College’s history.

Thanks to the members of the Polk County Legislative Delegation, and the leadership of Senator Kelli Stargel in the position of Chair of Senate Appropriations, the College achieved its 2022 legislative priorities and estimates it will receive $53.1 million in the upcoming fiscal year, which will begin on July 1.

Funding includes $13.8 million for phase one of construction for the Polk State Northeast Ridge Project, a new college campus on U.S. 27 in Haines City; $16.7 million for renovations to the science building on the Winter Haven Campus; and $10.1 million for much-needed deferred maintenance across all campuses. Additionally, the College is expected to net $7.5 million in recurring operational support and $5 million in nonrecurring funds to expand the College’s critical health sciences programs including Respiratory Care, Diagnostic Medical Sonography, Nursing, and more.

“The investment our legislators have made in Polk State College will transform the lives of thousands of Polk County residents and their families, bolster the talent pipeline of highly skilled professionals to meet growing workforce needs, and drive the economic development of our region,” Polk State College President Angela Garcia Falconetti said. “On behalf of our College and community, I extend my sincerest gratitude to the Polk County Legislative Delegation. The diligent work of our legislators and the value they place on quality higher education is a key factor to the success of our community.”

Throughout the session, Polk County’s legislators, Senator Stargel, Senator Ben Albritton, Senator Danny Burgess, Representative Melony Bell, Representative Colleen Burton, Representative Sam Killebrew, Representative Fred Hawkins, and Representative Josie Tomkow, have met with Polk State students, faculty, and staff to engage in discussions to gain a better understanding of the College’s needs. The delegation has consistently shown its support and this year was no different.

The development of a campus in Northeast Polk County on property the College owns on U.S. 27 has been a priority of President Falconetti since she began her tenure as president in 2017. According to data from Polk County, Northeast Polk is projected to have an additional 201,000 people and 91,000 dwelling units by 2045. This growth is also expected to bring an estimated additional 38,500 K-12 students.

“Our county is growing and the need to provide access to affordable higher education and workforce training is critical to developing economic opportunities and enhanced quality of life for students and their families,” Falconetti said.  “Polk State is the community’s college, and we want to ensure that no matter where individuals live in Polk County, anyone who wants to further their education and training can do so with us.”

The Legislature’s appropriation of additional funds to the College for the expansion of critical health sciences programs is an acknowledgement of Polk County’s critical need for skilled healthcare workers. The College benefitted from the leadership of Representative Burton, as Chair of the House Health & Human Services Committee, for her extensive knowledge of the healthcare industry and its workforce needs.

Polk State has a long history of producing health sciences graduates who consistently exceed state and national pass rates on licensure examinations. Additionally, 70 percent of Polk State graduates remain in Polk County, which means the College is training the community’s workforce. The College plans to invest these operational funds in simulation equipment and instructional aids to allow for the expansion of student seats in programs including Respiratory Care, Emergency Medical Services, Radiography, and more. Additionally, the College plans to launch a Licensed Practical Nurse program in response to local hospital demand.

This year was also significant for the College with President Falconetti serving as Chair of the Florida College System Council of Presidents. As Chair, she was tasked with advocating for both Polk State and Florida’s 28 public state colleges. In addition to achieving Polk State’s legislative priorities, her leadership and the advocacy of the college presidents resulted in additional appropriations for the Florida College System including $30 million for operations, $40 million for a new appropriation to reward performance and excellence among nursing education programs at state colleges, and $400 million for deferred maintenance across the system.

“With the Florida College System serving more than 700,000 students annually and with 95 percent of graduates remaining in Florida to work and continue their education, funding our system is critical to the securing Florida’s future workforce,” Falconetti said. “I am grateful to the Council of Presidents for their commitment to not only their communities, institutions, and the students they serve locally, but also their dedication to accelerating our system and Florida forward together.”

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