State Farm’s CEO on 26 Seconds and Keeping Kids in School
April 12, 2011
By State Farm CEO on 26 Seconds campaign
In this Brand Innovator Spotlight, Ed Rust, the chief executive officer of State Farm, announces the launch of 26 Seconds and explains how that brand is helping the nation to keep kids in school.
Brandon Gutman: You launched 26 Seconds on March 21. Tell us about the campaign.
Ed Rust: Every 26 seconds in America, a student drops out of high school. The campaign, titled “26 Seconds,” will use interests, like music, sports and video, to engage those who can most directly affect change – young people themselves. It will provide an online venue for youth to express feelings on the issue and creatively share thoughts and talents—encouraging them and their peers to make graduation a priority so they become more than a statistic. The program’s tagline, “BMOR,” underscores this call to action.
What do you view as the biggest challenge in encouraging kids to stay in school?
Kids most at risk of dropping out don’t have a lock on how important education is to their future. They don’t understand how a high school dropout is eight times more likely to be incarcerated than a high school grad, and three times more likely to be unemployed than a college grad. But there’s a multitude of problems involving the economy and our overall society—kids with grown-up responsibilities, frequent moves, homelessness. Parents who don’t speak English have a hard time getting involved in their kids’ education. And, frankly, our society sends a lot of conflicting messages about values and the importance of schools.
How is the campaign being promoted? Are there any big partners you are working with to help create awareness about 26 Seconds?
LeBron James is highly involved. So are Alma and Colin Powell with America’s Promise Alliance. LeBron is involved in the 26 Seconds online community, trying to get kids to buy in, encouraging them and motivating them to join the graduation conversation. So many kids who need help don’t have help. That’s why part of our campaign involves State Farm employees and agents as mentors to young people. We’re also providing some scholarships for students not traditionally eligible for many scholarship programs. They can be used for college or technical or vocational school tuition.
You’re often quoted saying that education is an economic and workforce issue. What does that mean?
In the plainest possible language, it’s about this country having a workforce of individuals who have or who can acquire the knowledge and skills necessary to support our standard of living. Many other countries are doing a far better job of educating and training their young people. The dropout crisis has a direct connection to future earnings, to jobs created, to future home and car sales and to government budgets, including tax revenue.
What’s next for State Farm and its continued focus on education?
The goal is to help increase the high school graduation rate to 90 percent by 2020. We’re committed to helping implement newly reauthorized federal education legislation, to helping sustain the momentum behind the Common Core Standards effort to assure that every state holds students accountable for competitive standards of learning. We have a strong focus on youth leadership. With efforts like the State Farm Youth Advisory Board, we bring young people into the national conversation about education reform.