From Low-skilled to College-Ready: Building Pathways for All Youth Who Drop Out

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Low skilled to college ready - for blogThis post was written by Peter Kleinbard, a consultant who works with organizations serving adolescents. This is the first post in a series that describes how organizations that operate dropout reengagement programs work with city and state leaders as well as private funders to maximize success.

In 2011, I began an examination of two programs serving young adults who had dropped out of school. Having worked for years with such programs, I was frustrated by the lack of research that could guide local efforts. Most research is about national initiatives, funded at $10,000 or more per participant, and has limited applicability to programs that are developed in communities where funding levels typically are much lower.

Further, trends affecting dropouts are changing rapidly. On the one hand, new reports from the U.S. Department of Education and Building a GradNation show that high school graduation rates are at an historic high. However, disparities continue to exist between states, and major cities persistently have lower graduation rates. Prospects for federal support of national projects continue to dim as a result of Washington’s political battles, even though there are excellent initiatives with their extensive resources and highly developed programs. In addition, in districts that are unprepared, the Common Core’s rigorous academic standards, a good thing for most youth, will push out more of those who are struggling.

How do local programs that serve dropouts actually work? How do the organizations that operate them work with city, state leaders and private funders?
Over the next few months, this blog series will provide an overview of how two community-based organizations (CBOs) have worked with governments and funders to reduce obstacles to their services in funding and policy, re-engage and advance the skills of young adults, and establish strong and positive cultures in the programs that they operate. The full paper, For Young Adults Who Drop Out: Pathways or Merely Stops along the Way?, chronicles their work in greater detail.

My selection of sites was based on recommendations from leaders in the field and my observations in five cities. Besides evidence of high-quality services, the programs had to be “local” in the sense that they were designed and managed by CBOs and, funded, at least partially, with local resources. And the sites had to serve the full range of 16- to 24-year-olds that have dropped out, from those who are low-skilled to those nearly ready for work or college. Costs at these sites averaged $7,000 per participant. I interviewed and tracked 27 young adults for a year or more, and spoke to more than 30 staff as well as observing program activities.

What I learned casts a sharp light on how these sites build and sustain effective programs, and the challenges in enabling these youth to achieve financial independence. I hope this knowledge will be useful to cities and CBOs, and that the qualitative study will inform and provoke more formal and rigorous research.

Stay tuned…the next post will describe how community-based organizations have worked with funders and local governments to help overcome a major obstacle to success: the short time periods allowed to serve individual young adults.

Peter Kleinbard_headshot

About the Author: Peter Kleinbard is a consultant who works with organizations serving adolescents. From 2001 until 2010, he was executive director of the Youth Development Institute, a national intermediary based in New York City. He also founded the Youth Transition Funders, an affinity group for foundations.