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SUCCESS AT EVERY STEP: New Report Profiles Twenty-Three Programs that Help Prepare Students for College and Career

"Obtaining a high school diploma is no longer sufficient for young people who hope to land a job that pays a family-sustaining wage in today's economy."

A new report from the American Youth Policy Forum (AYPF) profiles twenty-three programs that primarily serve youth in middle school, high school, and postsecondary education and have been successful in preparing them for college and careers. The report, Success at Every Step: How 23 Programs Support Youth on the Path to College and Beyond, provides policymakers and practitioners with a short summary of the research findings for each program and a short description of why the programs work.

“Obtaining a high school diploma is no longer sufficient for young people who hope to land a job that pays a family-sustaining wage in today’s economy,” the report reads. “Without some type of education beyond high school (four-year college, two-year college, an industry certificate, or apprenticeship program), most young adults will find themselves out in the cold in the current labor market.”

Even though additional education after high school is so important in today’s economy, approximately one quarter of students do not even earn a high school diploma, the report points out. And among those who do, far too many leave high school without the critical skills and competencies to succeed in college or the workforce.

In conducting its analysis of the twenty-three programs included in the report, AYPF discovered several common themes that helped to contribute to the programs’ effectiveness. It grouped these themes into two categories: Programmatic Elements of Success and Structural and System-Focused Elements of Success. According to the report, the Programmatic Elements of Success include factors “related to the content and interactions that characterize young people’s experiences in the programs, such as rigor and academic support, relationships, college knowledge and access, relevance, youth-centered programs, and effective instruction.”

Meanwhile, Structural and System-Focused Elements of Success include factors “related to the context and environment in which the programs operate, such as partnerships and cross-systems collaboration, strategic use of time, leadership and autonomy, and effective assessment and use of data.”

Some of the programs included in the study were Career Academies, Communities in Schools, Dual Enrollment (Florida and New York City), Early College High Schools, First Things First, Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs (GEAR UP), Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP), National Guard Youth ChalleNGe, Project Graduate Really Achieves Dreams (GRAD), Talent Development High School, and Upward Bound.

Based upon the evaluations of these and other programs included in the study, AYPF makes several policy recommendations on how to create an overall framework and expectation of college and career readiness for all students. For example, AYPF recommends that policymakers hold all education and youth service providers accountable for shared outcomes that lead to career success, civic engagement, and the capacity for lifelong learning and ensure that the full range of providers, such as afterschool, alternative education programs, employers, colleges, community-based organizations, and social services, are involved as partners in the college- and career-readiness system.

Additionally, AYPF recommends that policymakers ensure that youth who drop out of middle or high school have opportunities to reconnect to education programs that lead into college and career pathways and that data is collected from various systems over time to assess progress toward long-term outcomes and use the data to improve programs and services.

The complete report, which includes five-page summaries of the programs featured in the report, is available at

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Every Child a Graduate. Every Child Prepared for Life.