One month ago, 850 high school students from Manatee and Sarasota counties packed Robarts Arena for the State of Jobs Conference. While the day was a success in terms of engagement and the opportunity to learn more about various industries that day, it was never meant to be a “one-and-done” event. From the very beginning four years ago, we knew we wanted to collect data from the students and use it to inform the community about students’ perception of college and careers in our area. As we collect the data over the years, we can form actionable steps to help shape their perceptions so they are realistic, or maybe even guide them in a different direction that they never thought existed.

The surveys we collect from the students form the 27-page State of Students Report (SOSR.) Once again, it showed some areas of focus for community leaders to develop initiatives to help prepare students for their post-secondary experiences.

This year, we focused on several areas of opportunity. First, we need to ensure students understand career pathways and what education and skills are required at each point on the pathway. 74% of students are interested in earning a bachelor’s degree following high school. Statistically, out of those 74% of students, only about half are likely to complete their degree. So, by giving students an opportunity to understand what a legitimate pathway would look like in their field of interest, we can set up our community to be far more successful.

Another area surfaced as part of the SOSR is the importance of career exploration in middle school. 54% of students reported they first started thinking about what they’re going to do after high school in middle school. Shockingly, 14% said they started thinking about it in elementary school. We need to provide opportunities for students to explore potential careers in middle school to help determine if this is truly a pathway they want to follow.

The goal of SOSR is simply to hear directly from students and align their passions with opportunities. You can download the full report at

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