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BUT WHAT TO DO WITH THE DROPOUTS?: New Report Examines Ways to Reengage Dropouts and Put Them on a Pathway to a Good Job

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“Without question, many of the millions of youth who have dropped out of school have talent, ability, and aspirations for a better future and can benefit from being connected to a supported pathway to postsecondary credentials."

Although 30 percent of all young people and 50 percent of minority youth leave high school without a high school diploma, the issue of how to reconnect dropouts to the education system receives far less attention than low graduation rates and dropout prevention. So says Creating Postsecondary Pathways to Good Jobs for Young High School Dropouts: The Possibilities and the Challenges, a new report from the Center for American Progress (CAP), which looks at strategies for helping high school dropouts between the ages of sixteen and twenty-four earn postsecondary credentials that will help them land well-paying jobs.

“Without question, many of the millions of youth who have dropped out of school have talent, ability, and aspirations for a better future and can benefit from being connected to a supported pathway to postsecondary credentials,” the report reads. “This tremendous pool of talent and potential, if properly supported and channeled, can help close the skills gap in this country and greatly contribute to our nation’s productivity and competitiveness.”

According to the report, dropouts could land good jobs in past decades at steel mills, assembly lines, and manufacturing plants, but those jobs now require higher levels of education. It cites a Bureau of Labor Statistics estimate that nearly half of the 15.6 million net new jobs that the U.S. economy will produce between 2006 and 2016 will require postsecondary credentials.

The report notes that there are examples of cutting-edge programs that have been successful in reengaging out-of-school youth, but they are often underfunded, overlap rather than reinforce each other, and serve only a fraction of those who need assistance. To improve the impact of these programs, CAP suggests examining the intersection of these programs for innovations that can improve educational and economic outcomes for out-of-school youth.

For example, it calls for accelerating learning and time to credential through the use of credit recovery and dual enrollment programs. Such programs can help students who left school far short of the credits necessary for academic and labor market success make up the credits they need. It also recommends restructuring the activities of dropout recovery, remediation, and youth development programs to make college matriculation a “central goal” of youth employment. It highlights the YouthBuild program, which successfully incorporates work, community service, and leadership development with online instruction that is supported by an adult education office.

But helping dropouts think about postsecondary education and prepare for its rigors is only the first step. As the report explains, students also need to see a clear pathway to postsecondary occupational credentials and advancement in the labor market in order to ensure that they stay long enough to attain a postsecondary credential. Some tools the report suggests to support this objective include internships and work experiences, mentors, and tangible rewards for learning such as performance-based scholarships. It also calls for support structures to promote postsecondary persistence and completion of credits that help dropouts navigate the financial aid system and balance the demands on their time from work, family, and academics.

CAP also calls for greater alignment across federal elementary and secondary education, adult education, job training, and higher education policies. It says that substantially increased federal resources should be directed to assist states and localities to “bring together secondary, postsecondary, and workforce systems, along with employers, to build the institutional capacity of secondary and postsecondary institutions and community-based organizations” and better address the needs of out-of-school youth. Specifically, it calls for enhanced state and local data management capacity to better track education and labor market outcomes, stronger student support structures, such as academic advisement, and more funding to cover college costs and living expenses for low-income students.

The complete report is available at http://www.americanprogress.org/issues/2008/10/pdf/postsecondary_pathways.pdf.

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