Polk State JD Alexander Center Makes Education Possible For Mom And Daughter

Posted on by Polk Newsroom

For students at the Polk State JD Alexander Center, location is everything. Without Polk State College’s presence in southeast Polk County, many students would not be pursuing higher education because they would not be able to access or afford it. While a commute to the Winter Haven or Lakeland campus may not seem far to some, for those who lack a means of transportation or the time to commute, the distance is an overwhelming obstacle.

The proposed budget cuts of the 2017 Legislative Session put the nearly 1,100 students served by the Center at risk of losing their place of learning. Thanks to the support of the community and the Polk County legislative delegation, the Polk State JD Alexander Center continues to be a place of opportunity and goal fulfillment for the residents of southeast Polk County.

Polk State News met with several students at the Polk State JD Alexander Center to hear how the location is allowing them to pursue their dreams, and how without it, those pursuits would not be possible.

Going back to school was not part of Stacey Rodriguez’s plans, but when the mother of four arrived at the Polk State JD Alexander Center to help enroll her eldest daughter, Destiny Bruno, a student services specialist had a question for Rodriguez that caused her to rethink her path.

“She asked me what I was going to do with myself now that all of my kids were in school,” Rodriguez recalled. “The logical choice was to use the extra time to do something for my future.”

Stacey Rodriguez

But her “extra time” is precious, given a busy schedule filled with raising a 5-, 9-, and 15-year-old, as well as helping Bruno with her 2-year-old son, Ayden. If she needed to commute outside of Lake Wales to attend classes, it would certainly have changed her response to the question.

“I wouldn’t have gone back to school if I did not have the convenience of the Center – that’s a fact,” Rodriguez said.

Thanks to the convenient location of the Polk State JD Alexander Center and the chain of events that took place on her visit, she is now working on her Associate in Arts degree and prerequisites for the Polk State Nursing Program.

Rodriguez and Bruno were attracted to Polk State because of their ability to take classes locally. They are representative of the Center’s students, as 77 percent have Lake Wales ZIP codes.

Rodriguez and Bruno are able to walk to the campus in an emergency, but they typically drive, cutting the commute from a 15-minute walk to a 5-minute ride.

The convenient commute is particularly significant, as when Bruno enrolled two years ago, she didn’t have a car of her own. More than 38 percent of Polk County’s population is categorized as “transportation disadvantaged” by the Polk Transportation Planning Organization, as they do not have a reliable means of transportation.

“This place gave me my start,” Bruno said. “I had a baby. I didn’t have a car. But, I could walk to the JD Alexander Center and work toward bettering myself and achieving my dreams. It was a very special opportunity.”

“This place gave me my start,” Bruno said. “I had a baby. I didn’t have a car. But, I could walk to the JD Alexander Center and work toward bettering myself and achieving my dreams. It was a very special opportunity.”

Without the ability to walk to the Polk State JD Alexander Center, Bruno wouldn’t have been able to continue courses towards a degree, which was especially important because she wanted to make a better life for herself and her then-newborn son. This would have been a tremendous loss for Bruno, a former International Baccalaureate student who had already accrued an entire year of college coursework before graduating from Lake Wales High School.

She continues to work at the Center and also plans to utilize its services when she studies for her Bachelor of Science in Nursing, which Polk State offers as a fully online program. The Center provides tutoring and testing services, advisors, library resources, computer and Internet access, and other essentials.

Bruno joined the Federal Work-Study Program and began a part-time job at the Center to help cover some of the costs associated with education, such as books and supplies. The work has given her new skills and also enabled her to afford a car. She now commutes to classes at the Winter Haven and Lakeland campuses as she works on her Associate in Science in Nursing.

“Losing the Center would mean losing my job and this important community facility,” Bruno said. “My mom still takes classes here, so it would be a burden on her, too, to have to drive to Lakeland or Winter Haven.”

The community showed its collective support for the Polk State JD Alexander Center and the need for access to higher education in southeast Polk County when legislators threatened to cut funding for the campus during the 2017 Legislative Session.

Since originally receiving funds in 2011-2012 as part of a $3 million recurring budget line item, enrollment at the Polk State JD Alexander Center has increased 17 percent, expanding educational and economic opportunities for an average of 1,100 students each year. With Polk State’s graduates making on average 2.3 times the average entry-level wage in Polk County, the 438 southeast Polk County students who have graduated since Center’s opening in 2009 have received additional annual income of more than $11 million.

Bruno said that Polk State might not necessarily have been her first choice if location and affordability were not important factors; however, after hearing about the stellar reputation of the College’s Nursing Program and the high pass rates achieved by its graduates on the National Council Licensing Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN), she has absolutely reconsidered.

The College’s Associate in Science in Nursing graduates have a 95.47 percent pass rate on the NCLEX-RN, which is well over the average pass rate for state university graduates, and also exceeds the average state and national pass rates.

“Without the Polk State JD Alexander Center and the people here, I wouldn’t be pursuing higher education today,” Rodriguez said.

“The high pass rate, paired with the affordability and location, made Polk State the perfect fit for me,” Bruno said.

She added that the Center, which provides a “homey, family feel” has a special place in her heart. Her mother shared a similar sentiment.

“I didn’t think going back to school was in my future, but now I wake up wanting to come here. This place is like part of our family,” Rodriguez said. “Without the Polk State JD Alexander Center and the people here, I wouldn’t be pursuing higher education today.”