By Katherine Jones
With 20 percent of Texas’ population over 25 having a high school diploma as their highest level of educational attainment, Texas ranks last among the 50 states. Only 17.4 percent of Texans with children between the ages of 0-14 have a bachelor’s degree. This means that many of our students would be the first in their families to pursue higher education. In addition, approximately 2.9 million of the 4.9 million students in Texas public schools come from economically disadvantaged backgrounds.
These demographics translate into challenges for Texas because research indicates that economically disadvantaged and first-generation students are less likely to aspire to pursue college or career education beyond high school, less likely to be academically prepared, less likely to have familiarity with the steps in the process of applying for further education and financial assistance, and less likely to complete the steps in the process of applying for admission and financial aid.
Working with the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, the state agency overseeing higher education in Texas, a campaign to develop a college-going culture in Texas became a reality last year.
Applying the Lessons of LIVESTRONG
We began by applying many of the lessons learned through our creation of the LIVESTRONG campaign to an issue no less sweeping and important. While the parallels between cancer survivorship and increasing participation in higher education might not be readily apparent, we recognized a pattern. Cancer is a pervasive issue that affects everyone. A person diagnosed with cancer is required to navigate a complex system that no one ever taught them how to navigate. They want to connect with others like them and share stories of their experience. They need the fuel of belief and the power of information on a daily basis. Texas students face a similar landscape.
Understanding why and how to go to college is a pervasive challenge, affecting nearly 5 million Texas students and the future of this state. The path to college is complex, and many students come from backgrounds where neither they nor their parents have been taught how to navigate it, and in some cases families see college as something that pulls their kids away from family, a core value of this population. First generation students want to connect with others who are working through the same challenges. They need to be fueled with the belief that college is for them and empowered with information about how to succeed.
With LIVESTRONG, it started a movement. Could it happen for the students of Texas? We thought so.
A Model for Community Based Brands
While traditional advertising and marketing campaigns can be effective in communicating an idea, or sparking interest, they are not well suited to creating lasting behavioral change. But when movements take off, they activate like-minded people to connect and take action, planting the seeds for a new culture. Creating a culture ultimately means creating lasting change in people’s behaviors, beliefs, and traditions and passed on from one generation to another.
A community model offers a framework to approach building a community based-brand. A brand that serves as a platform for community:
Building a Brand That Launches a Movement
We named this grassroots, community based movement, Generation TX (pronounced “Generation Texas”).
The Generation TX brand engages students, by speaking in their voice and addressing their hopes and aspirations for the future—giving them a sense of belonging. Generation Texas also acknowledges and respects the common life challenges that these students, families, and their communities face in getting on and staying on the path to preparing, applying for, and seeking financial aid for career and education beyond high school. Students and their families are connected on their terms, including providing materials in English and Spanish as well as via online and offline methods.
Through symbols and conversations, Generation TX also serves as a point of connection through social media, stickers, window decals, posters, t-shirts, and other wearable elements that enable students to recognize each other as sharing a common journey. Events and social media provide opportunities for shared conversations about their experiences on the path. Connecting with others just like them flips that switch inside them that says, “I can do that, too.”
A movement arises when people are connected not only to a shared powerful idea or aspiration, but also to the means necessary to take action. The Generation TX brand and GenTX.org provide a way to connect students to resources online and in their communities, empowering them to be successful in preparing for post-secondary education, applying for admission and for financial aid. Generation TX also provides a point of connection between supporters and programs in communities to help students.
Generation TX entered the pilot markets of San Antonio and Fort Worth in the fall of 2010, and the early signs are encouraging.
The GenTX.org site traffic and usage metrics build monthly. GenTX continues to establish key partnerships to scale the movement including statewide media sponsorships with Clear Channel and Univision, an in-store promotion partnership involving the 76,000 employees of H-E-B, and celebrity endorsements from Texas heroes who resonate with this audience, including NFL quarterback Vince Young.
San Antonio, in particular, has embodied the power of community engagement. The key to San Antonio’s success in rapidly adopting the movement lies in the collaboration of San Antonio’s leadership from Mayor Castro’s office, public education, higher education, and business. In fact, Greater Bexar County has launched a separate 501(c)(3) non-profit, called Generation TX San Antonio to implement Generation TX and make San Antonio a college-going and career-ready community in a single generation – one generation. In March, the General Motors Foundation selected San Antonio as the city to roll out a $4.5 million-a-year national scholarship program.
Generation TX San Antonio launched with 3,000 ninth graders from 34 high schools sharing a Saturday afternoon of community-wide support and encouragement from city leaders and the business community. Celebrity voices called out action items that outlined the “Top 5 Things You Can Do To Prepare For College.”
Katherine Jones is a Principal & Founder of Milkshake Media, based in Austin.
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