For Third Straight Year, Sarasota County Schools Lead State in Pell Grant Pursuit


The Talent4Tomorrow Partnership, a collective impact team of local organizations focused on increasing college and credential attainment in Sarasota County, announces that the Sarasota County School District has been recognized as having the highest FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) completion rate in the state, according to the Florida College Access Network (FCAN). This is the third year in a row that Sarasota County has been named number one in the state for “Large Districts” in FCAN’s annual Florida FAFSA Challenge.

2018 FAFSA Photo 1

Completing the FAFSA is the first step to accessing financial aid for college, as well as a leading indicator of college attendance. But research indicates that Florida high school graduates leave behind over $100 million in federal Pell Grants alone by not completing the form. Through targeted efforts developed by Talent4Tomorrow in partnership with the school district, 47.8% of Sarasota County high school seniors completed the FAFSA as of March 31, 2018. According to FCAN, the incremental increase in FAFSA completion over the last two years has resulted in approximately $800,000 in additional Pell grants available for Sarasota County graduates to pursue their higher-education goals, with the average student award approximately $4,000.

“The Talent4Tomorrow initiative demonstrates an example of a true collaboration between a broad range of organizations coming together for a common goal – the future of our community’s youth.  The Chamber believes strongly in this alliance and the outcomes are a testament to the strength and commitment that the partners bring to the table,” said Kevin Cooper, President of The Greater Sarasota Chamber of Commerce which serves as the ‘backbone’ organization for Talent4Tomorrow.

Innovative Strategies

Talent4Tomorrow partners worked with the District to implement several strategies that assisted graduating high school seniors and their families with completing the financial aid form. Talent4Tomorrow hosted FAFSA labs at high schools, with support from local college financial aid officers and other community volunteers, to assist students and their parents in the application process. It also implemented a communications plan to raise awareness about FAFSA that included flyers, text messages, emails, classroom visits, morning announcements, outreach to youth-serving partners and the faith-based community, press releases, and social media posts.

2018 FAFSA Photo 2

The Partnership developed some new techniques this year, such as the innovative use of Snapchat geofilters, introduced by CareerEdge Funders Collaborative and piloted at Booker High School. A geofilter is similar to a frame or sticker that can go on a Snapchat photo and is shared with the user’s friends. An organization or individual pays to have the filter available in Snapchat for a specific location and period of time. With approval from the school, the electronic FAFSA lab filter was made available in the cafeteria for the students. On lab day alone, the filter was swiped by 367 students, and 64 of them posted these framed photos on their account, which resulted in 2,900 views of the FAFSA filter.

According to FCAN, Booker High School had the second-highest completion rate improvement in the District compared to last year, with a 9% increase.  The Snapchat strategy was seen as a positive application of a platform used by students daily. The Talent4Tomorrow Partnership plans to expand the use of this social media tool next year and will continue to look for ways to engage and connect with students on the value of completing the FAFSA.

Support for these programs and events comes from Gulf Coast Community Foundation, the Charles & Margery Barancik Foundation, and Community Foundation of Sarasota County, with matching funds from the Florida Philanthropic Network through its College Access & Success Initiative (CASI), which is supported by the Helios Education Foundation and The Kresge Foundation.

More information about FCAN and the FAFSA Challenge Winners is available here.

About the Talent4Tomorrow Partnership

Talent4Tomorrow was launched by the Greater Sarasota Chamber of Commerce in 2013 to cultivate a competitive regional workforce by developing a talent pipeline for area students to enter local jobs that are in high demand. Initially a broad-based regional business and education collaborative, it has since sharpened its focus on improving college attainment for Sarasota County youth. It serves as Sarasota’s “Local College Access Network,” or LCAN, coordinating the diverse efforts of a team of community partners to increase college and career preparation, access, and completion. It is one of nine such regional groups, representing 22 counties, aligned with the statewide Florida College Access Network (FCAN). Leadership of the collaborative includes the following organizations: Charles and Margery Barancik Foundation, CareerEdge Funders Collaborative, Community Foundation of Sarasota County, Education Foundation of Sarasota County, Gulf Coast Community Foundation, Sarasota County School District, The Greater Sarasota Chamber of Commerce, UnidosNow, and United Way Suncoast. Additionally, more than 30 other nonprofits, businesses, and educational institutions participate as implementation partners, making it possible to deliver programs and services to students and their families.

Reach Higher Convening Recap

“The ultimate outcome of education is not a diploma. It’s a great job and life.”

Brandon Busteed, Executive Director, Education & Workforce Development, Gallup

It’s often been said that you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone. Just as true: you don’t know what you’ve got until you see what someone else has. Last week, GSCC staff members were part of a small delegation to represent Florida at First Lady Michelle Obama’s “Reach Higher” convening in Colorado. This conference focused on preparing students with work ready skills. Presenters, ranging from corporate leaders of Fortune 500 companies to the President of the Education Commission of the United States, discussed the growing national need for education policies around work readiness for all students.

Much of the conversation revolved around the critical need for talented, engaged, and well-supported school counselors. Nationally, more than 20% of high schools lack any school counselor, and over 1.6 million students attend a school with a sworn law enforcement officer but not a school counselor (Dr. Joyce V. Brown, National Consortium for School Counseling and Postsecondary Success). Reflection from these presentations highlighted the great resource guidance counselors are for our own community. In Sarasota County, our students are fortunate to school guidance counseling staff at every school K-12. Our local guidance counselors have been the key to our Talent4Tomorrow Partnership efforts in increasing FAFSA completion, and expanding awareness of financial opportunities for post-secondary education.

Career and Technical Education (CTE) was another primary area of focus of several presenters and panelists, including an informative site visit to Roy J. Wasson Academic Campus in Colorado Springs District 11. Departments of Education around the country are seeking opportunities to partner with companies to align CTE programs at the high school and postsecondary levels to workforce needs. Ensuring that students are aware of these opportunities is a key component of the new Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), signed into law in December 2015 as a replacement for No Child Left Behind. Locally, The Greater Sarasota Chamber of Commerce’s Talent4Tomorrow Partnership has placed career awareness at the forefront of its programmatic work. Recently, Talent4Tomorrow gathered 84 of Sarasota County’s brightest students for an “Experience Engineering” luncheon. Students engaged in roundtable discussions with 31 engineers from 14 local companies about the many engineering opportunities available in the greater Sarasota community, the diversity of specialties within that field, and tips for gaining the most of their time while in college.

Internships and hands-on career opportunities was also a strong theme. During a panel presentation, Noel Ginsburg, Chairman and CEO of Intertech Plastics, spoke of the 2.6% youth unemployment in Switzerland due to apprenticeship programs and the economic benefit to companies that invest in these opportunities, including lower long-term training costs. Carl A. Marchetto, Vice President and General Manager of Commercial Space at Lockheed Martin, also discussed the need for a stronger infrastructure for smaller companies to “plug and play” in experiential opportunities for students. However, Brandon Busteed, Executive Director of Education & Workforce Development for Gallup, shared that only 4.6% of students in grades 5th-12th are interning for a local business. With little hands-on experience, how is a student to discern whether a career path is right for them? And without the confidence of an internship to guide their career pathway, how can students feel comfortable taking on massive debts to pursue a degree in a particular field? Again, Sarasota County boasts strong relationships between business, schools, and universities that allow students to gain those hands on experiences. Whether it be at the annual State of Jobs conference for high school (and soon, middle school) students, or internships with incredible organizations such as PGT, Sun Hydraulics, FCCI Insurance and Mote Marine Laboratories (to name a few), there are many exciting ways for local students to gain real-world knowledge of career pathways. Career exploration continues to expand within the Talent4Tomorrow Partnership’s Local College Access Network, and a community asset map focused on internships is in the final data-gathering stages.

During the long flight home, it was easy to think about the incredible community we have in Sarasota. Though we learned so much from Colorado, and well as the other 48 states present at the “Reach Higher” convening, it is safe to say that Sarasota is making enviable strides towards preparing our students to be ready for the 21st century workplace.