For Students Dropped Out of School, Local Reenrollment Programs Actually Work

NLC’s 2016 Reengagement census suggests a very positive return on investment for cities that pursue a systematic approach to academic reenrollment programs.

(Getty Images)

Reengagement programs gave thousands of disconnected youth the opportunity to return to the classroom in the 2015-2016 academic year. (Getty Images)

The newest census of dropout reengagement programs from the National League of Cities (NLC) shows continuing growth in this field designed to plug a critical gap for several million youth and young adults who lack high school diplomas. The 2015-2016 data collected in the census also suggests a sustained high level of effectiveness at keeping students engaged once reenrolled in most sites, and provides important benchmarking and performance data for program operators. All told, the census suggests a very positive return on investment for cities that pursue a systematic approach to reengagement.

Via partnerships between cities, school districts, community colleges, workforce boards and others, in aggregate the 20 programs across the country responding to the census reach out to 48,077 disengaged students. Reengagement programs assisted 24,140 of those students in completing the intake process, ultimately placing 12,319 students into education programs.

The reengagement programs generally take the form of a brick-and-mortar location where students who have left the traditional education system can go to receive assistance from specialists who help them find their best-fit academic program so the students may complete their secondary education.

This year, 17 out of the 20 reengagement programs that work with NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education, and Families submitted data on where their students decided to enroll. Roughly 80 percent of students chose to attend either Alternative High Schools (39.5 percent) or GED/Adult Education Programs (38.5 percent). The remaining students chose to attend online degree programs, charter or private schools, job-training programs and other forms of educational assistance.

To track the efficacy of reengagement programs, the census asks sites to report on their persistence rate, or “stick rate” – the percentage of students who persist in or graduate from an education program in the academic year in which they reenroll. The average stick rate across 11 sites, representing 6,564 students, came in at 70.8 percent, very similar to prior years. The median stick rate stood at 67.2 percent, implying that the aggregate average skewed high as several sites reported very high stick rates. Most sites’ stick rates, however, fell within the 60 to 66 percent range.

Examining the 2016 demographic data, there appears to be little change from prior years’ data. Black and Latino students remain the most commonly reported race and ethnic categories for students placed by sites. The census found a slight decline in the number of Latino students reported from the 2015 Reengagement Census, but that change appears almost entirely due to the absence of census figures from one large site.

Trends among the ages of youth placed also continued as before, with the average reengagement student being 18 years old. The majority of students placed by reengagement programs were between the ages of 17 and 19.

Regarding gender breakdown, there was significant variation in the male-to-female ratios for those placed in reengagement programs. In some programs, males constituted an overwhelming majority of students placed, while the opposite was true in other programs. Ultimately, the average gender representation across sites showed males at 55 percent and females at 44 percent overall.

The census also collected data regarding the grade level of students at the time of placement. The most common category here was ninth grade followed by tenth grade, a pattern that continued until twelfth grade. The census found a few programs that placed students into eighth grade, i.e. middle school programs.

It is critical that students who have dropped out are given opportunities to reconnect back to education options that will prepare them for a successful adulthood. As reengagement programs continue to spread across the nation, NLC looks forward to supporting their efforts.

Join Andrew Moore, NLC’s Director of Youth and Young Adult Connections, and Niels Smith, 2016-17 Heinz Graduate Fellow, to learn more about the study and trends of Reengagement Centers across the country in a webinar on Friday, February 24 at 2 p.m. EST. Register here.

niels_smith_125x150About the author: Niels Smith is a Heinz Fellow at NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education, and Families. He is currently completing his degree in Public Policy and Management at Carnegie Mellon University’s Heinz College. Contact Niels at

Getting More Young People to the Finish Line: Colorado’s Reengagement Network

The national high school graduation rate recently hit 81 percent, the highest rate in history. Yet, graduation numbers in many cities across the country continue to hover below the national average. These cities are home to large numbers of young people who have not finished high school, and lack a clear pathway to do so.

do-mapThe map above displays the number of students that have dropped out in Colorado by school district. (Colorado Youth for Change)

In response, a growing number of cities and states have put specific strategies in place to reengage students who have not finished school. For example, reengagement efforts are underway across the state of Colorado. This past spring, the state established the Colorado Reengagement Network (CRN) to strengthen and expand reengagement efforts in Colorado.

The CRN is the nation’s first mutual support network, and streamlines the coordination of regional and statewide student reengagement efforts to better serve students throughout Colorado. It serves as a model for other states. The network is supported by the Colorado Department of Education (CDE) and spearheaded by Colorado Youth for a Change (CYC).

Through CRN, Colorado Youth for a Change has provided a platform for different groups working towards the same cause – expanding opportunities for youth – to work with and learn from one another. Their mission is simple: help organizations grow from the lessons learned by other organizations without having to experience those lessons themselves. The collaborative environment promoted by the network will increase the capacity and improve the quality of reengagement efforts across the state.

The CRN provides an opportunity for school districts, especially those located in in the Denver Metro area, to benefit from best practice activities happening in peer districts. This culture of sharing, however, has not yet reached many rural areas in Colorado. Expanding the reach and scope of the current CRN presents an opportunity to strengthen the work currently being done while creating a culture of sharing across the state, and ultimately increasing the high school graduation rate.

The Colorado Reengagement Network recognizes that there are many different model reengagement centers across the state with the same goal — improving student outcomes. CRN will connect individuals and organizations addressing the same issues in different cities at different levels to ideas and experiences about dropout prevention and reengagement by:

  • Sharing resources such as the Reengagement Guide published by the Department of Education with members.
  • Conducting outreach for events and webinars focused on reengagement.
  • Hosting a convening for members to come together this fall.
  • Advocating for and publicizing reengagement efforts across the state.

The Colorado Reengagement Network will host a series of networking conference calls leading up to October Count. The calls will provide an open forum for district and school administrators, teachers, and community organizers to share reengagement strategies.

NLC serves as the hub of the Reengagement Network, a national network whose members operate reengagement centers and programs in cities and states across the country.

Zachia headshot
About the Author:
Zachia Nazarzai is the Reengagement Fellow with the NLC Institute for Youth, Education, and Families. She is a graduate student at the Heinz School of Public Policy and Management at Carnegie Mellon University. Contact Zachia at