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PATHWAY TO RECOVERY: New Report Spotlights Successful Dropout Recovery Programs, Calls for Greater Focus on Out-of-School Youths

“Our country is unlikely to resolve its skill gap or rebuild its communities without addressing the large and growing population of low-income, underrepresented, and too often out-of-school young people.”

In the midst of harsh economic and demographic realities, focusing attention on low-income students and students of color is essential to the nation’s economic well-being and the health of its communities, according to a new report from Jobs for the Future (JFF). The report, Pathway to Recovery: Implementing a Back on Track Through College Model, spotlights innovative programs showing how “dropout recovery can be part of the national recovery” and argues that the time is “ripe” to examine these promising practices and to design public and private investment strategies that will allow this work to grow and flourish.

“Our country is unlikely to resolve its skill gap or rebuild its communities without addressing the large and growing population of low-income, underrepresented, and too often out-of-school young people,” the report notes. “The number of low-income families is on the rise, and the bursting of the housing bubble has exponentially accelerated wealth inequality. The latter has disproportionately affected the financial well-being of racial and ethnic minority communities and households, already overrepresented among the low-income population.”

The report finds that the percentage of students who express an interest in going to college has grown tremendously. In fact, the percentage of tenth graders who indicated they wanted to obtain a college degree doubled, rising from 40 percent to 80 percent between 1980 and 2002. It argues that the nation must help young people “realize their educational aspirations” if it is to regain its economic prowess and close a skills gap that is significant and growing. It notes that nearly half of all job openings over the next decade are projected to require some postsecondary education and training.

According to the report, 60 percent of young people who drop out of high school eventually earn some form of high school diploma or certificate, with most doing so by completing a General Educational Development (GED) program. After ten years however, less than one in ten has earned a postsecondary credential.

The report highlights the “Postsecondary Success Initiative,” which was launched in 2008 as a collaboration of JFF, YouthBuild USA, and the National Youth Employment Coalition. According to the report, the first set of young people to go through the initiative are graduating from high school, enrolling in postsecondary education, and persisting in the first year at two to three times the rate of their peers.

For example, 71 percent of all students entering YouthBuild USA’s first cohort of Postsecondary Success Initiative sites earned a high school diploma or GED even though more than 90 percent were former high school dropouts. Of those who earned a diploma or GED, 51 percent enrolled in postsecondary education and 59 percent persisted through the first year.

The report attributes the program’s success to partnerships among community-based organizations and postsecondary institutions that work together to enrich academic offerings, create bridges to postsecondary education, and build first-year supports to ensure that young people get the “academic momentum” they need to attain a postsecondary credential.

In Oregon, Portland YouthBuilders and Portland Community College (PCC) have identified college-ready standards in mathematics, reading, and writing, and then modified program courses to embed these standards. According to the report, Portland YouthBuilders faculty members use extended instructional periods and interdisciplinary units of instruction to introduce students to literacy analysis and research skills that are essential to success in college. In math, these faculty members are working with PCC’s faculty members to align the curriculum to college expectations. The report also includes case studies of successful programs in New York City, Ohio, Massachusetts, and Texas.

Based on the Postsecondary Success Initiative, JFF created a “Back on Track Through College” model for use by national networks, school districts, and postsecondary institutions to create aligned pathways through the first year of college for young people who have fallen off track from graduation or have dropped out. Thus far, there are twenty-nine participating sites and two dozen affiliated college partners across fifteen states. The report argues that spreading the Back on Track Through College model to more sites throughout the country would help thousands of young people while also shoring up the education pipeline and improving the national economy. To this end, it offers five recommendations for how federal policymakers can broaden the reach of Back on Track Through College pathways:

  • Invest in what works and spur innovation around successful models.
  • Simplify eligibility, reporting, and blending of funds.
  • Promote and codify improvements to education accountability systems.
  • Place a high priority on encouraging state and local partnerships.
  • Use the bully pulpit to highlight programs, activities, and partnerships that show promising results in helping disconnected youth succeed in postsecondary education.

Pathway to Recovery is available at

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