Oh 2019, if we had only known then what we know now, we might not have been so ready for you to gracefully take your bow in anticipation of 2020’s grand entrance.

I will admit I was excited for what 2020 was going to bring and had begun brainstorming marketing strategies using “2020” because it had a catchy ring to it. As we all are aware, 2020 made quite an entrance, and much of the world is still in the constant state of trying to make sense of what many have referred to as the “new normal.”

While 2020 has forced us all to slow down and examine our day-to-day lives, get to know our families again, become super creative with at-home activities, incorporate meditation time and prayer for our unsung heroes, our teachers and budget for food delivery services, there are many having to make decisions with long-lasting effects. Many of our parents have found themselves furloughed or out of work permanently with children who have graduated from high school with plans of attending college. Discussions in many of these households have been focused on how to continue with their child’s college plan with their new financial situation glaring at them from their checking and investment accounts. Other families may be more fortunate, having not been affected financially by COVID-19, but are now wary of their child leaving the safety of their disinfected, hand-washed home to move to campuses across our state and country. Many of our students who were just not sure what they were going to do post-graduation, and now faced with a pandemic, are even more confused about what their first year as a high school graduate will look like. All these scenarios often lead to what we call a gap year.

Gap years stress me out. As a former educator and now executive director of The Greenwood Promise, my career has been centered on educating, counseling, and guiding the students of Greenwood County to success. The scenarios I described for you above stress me out and keep me awake at night. Gap years are scary because of the data that I pore over. Data such as students who delay their enrollment in college are 64% less likely than their peers, who start on time, to complete a bachelor’s degree and 18% less likely to complete any college credits at all. The long-term effect on these students is that their long-term earnings will be less because of their lack of college completion. And that is not all! When students take a gap year, they tend to work and acquire “things” that will require income to maintain, and then the dream of going back to college becomes just that, a dream. Do you see now why I dream of chasing after students, maniacally waving college applications at them?

Students, please, do not take a gap year. I need sleep and the only way that is going to happen is from knowing that our students are not going to take a chance at becoming part of the statistics from not completing college and then not being able to get the jobs that they deserve. How about some positive data? Research also shows that post-economic events, jobs have been readily available, but will require a college degree. If your plan of a four-year college or university has been thwarted, go to Piedmont Tech, and take advantage of The Greenwood Promise funding if it is needed. If you are not sure what you want to do, call me. You have the support of our schools, The Promise, but most of all, the support of your community. You can go to college…we promise.

Davenport is executive director of The Greenwood Promise.