The COVID-19 pandemic has already wreaked havoc on the Class of 2020’s senior year, but a new campaign seeks to help ensure the damage for students in Sarasota County doesn’t extend beyond high school.
Ahead of the 2020-21 academic year, PLANit Sarasota — the local college access network (LCAN) serving Sarasota — launched its Don’t Cancel Your Future campaign aimed at minimizing “summer melt” and making the case that students should continue to pursue their postsecondary ambitions instead of treating 2020-21 as a gap year.
“You take a year off to travel or do an internship at Google, you don’t take a year off because there are no other alternatives,” said Thomas Williams, director of PLANit Sarasota. “So we asked ourselves, ‘What can we, as an organization, do to keep kids focused on school?’”
The answer to that question can largely be found on PLANit Sarasota’s Don’t Cancel Your Future landing page, which uses data — including FCAN’s June COVID-19 survey — to support the notion that students who graduated in the Spring shouldn’t press pause on their post-high school plans.
About 42% of Floridians who are currently enrolled in college or a postsecondary training program, per FCAN’s survey, said they have changed their plans in the wake of COVID-19, including taking time off or transferring to another school. This despite the fact that 58% of those surveyed said they have experienced job loss, reduced hours or pay cuts due to the pandemic, and 35% believe they will need additional education or training to find work at the same wages or income.
“There was big concern that summer melt was going to be huge this year, maybe twice the size of historical summer melts,” Williams said.
To help figure out the best way to make a compelling case for postsecondary persistence in their community, Williams and the PLANit Sarasota team engaged community partners like CareerSource Suncoast and the Cross College Alliance, which consists of University of South Florida — Sarasota/Bradenton, State College of Florida, Ringling College, and New College of Florida.
“We had an initial call with a panel of experts to get the objectives for the campaign down,” said Tracy Spalsbury, chief marketing officer for the Education Foundation of Sarasota County, the convening organization for PLANit Sarasota. “We ended up coming up with ‘Don’t Cancel Your Future’ because we talked to folks who work with this age group and the ‘cancel culture’ terminology is strong. We also wanted a call to action, which is how ‘Just Keep Planning’ came into play.”
The landing page satisfies one of the major objectives, which is to provide the resources and statistics supporting the pursuit of postsecondary education. The resources featured on the page include links to scholarship, financial aid, and grant opportunities in the area, information about Career and Technical Education, and support for filling out FAFSA.
“Our primary audience was the high school class of 2020, but really it could be all current (college) students,” Spalsbury said. “If you’re a sophomore in college, this is applicable to you.”
The other major objective involved creating a PSA campaign aimed at delivering the message of postsecondary persistence directly to recent high school graduates. Williams shared the overall “Don’t Cancel Your Future” message with outlets like the Sarasota Herald-Tribune and ABC 7, but Spalsbury said paid spots on Spotify proved to be especially effective at reaching students.
“Knowing that platform, students likely have a free account, which means they can only skip ads a number of times before you have to listen to them, but our clickthrough rate exceeded our expectations,” Spalsbury said.
Meanwhile, Williams implores students to heed the campaign message of not letting today’s extraordinarily challenging circumstances deter them from planning for tomorrow.
“Sitting home would be a setback because the statistics show that most kids don’t return to school, so if you can’t take a full course load, take a couple of courses and make some progress,” Williams said. “Keep planning, keep persisting!”
Visit PLANit Sarasota’s Don’t Cancel Your Future page now.