Working With Cities to Build Career Pathways for Out-Of-School Youth

Pathways to Success for Urban Youth, a strong case was presented for putting out-of-school, out-of-work youth back on the nation's policy agenda. A projected demographic bulge for the 18-24 year old cohort in the next decade coupled with their disastrous 20 year decline in earnings gave a sense of urgency to addressing policy, perception and practice in the nation's cities.

Great interest in the topic was generated by the widely distributed publication. Public interest groups and a few foundations expressed support for grassroots work in a few cities with the intent of starting the process of building systems to connect out-of-school youth to productive mainstream careers.

Research findings indicated that we knew quite a bit about successful practices despite the widespread perception that "nothing works." Three of those key findings stressed the importance of continuity of support from a caring adult, the centrality of work in designing programmatic interventions and the profound connection between education and earnings.

This bill authorizes 250 million dollars per year for out-of-school youth in high poverty communities across the country, creates Youth Councils as a subgroup of Workforce Investment Boards for planning and coordination, establishes a separate Youth Title which incorporates youth employment and youth development approaches and outcomes and mandates that a minimum of 30% of the Youth Title funds be spent on out-of-school youth.

So it appears that out-of-school youth have finally appeared on the policy radar screen. Making sure that communities take heed of research findings about "what works" and the Department of Labor demonstration (Kulick) sites will be critical to maintaining a long term national commitment to youth.

This is the first of two monographs describing experience and issues raised by "Expanding Opportunities", the foundation supported multi city pilot effort based on the Levitan research findings. The overall goal is to help cities build sustainable systems to reconnect out- of- school youth to mainstream opportunities for success.

One important component of the strategy is to enrich educational programming and create career and college pathways for out-of-school youth by building community coalitions and using redirected and in many cases untapped financial resources. This paper explores the planning issues associated with the start- up of the field work (February-August 1998) in a manner designed to be helpful to other cities embarking on this important challenge.

The second monograph based on fuller field experience will explore issues relating to ongoing student participation and enrollment in new opportunities and the quality of staff and employer support available.


In many of the nation's inner city high schools the dropout rates are now exceeding 50%. At a time when the economy increasingly requires post-secondary education and training for all, programs established to serve dropouts have traditionally focused on the GED as not only the primary, but the final, educational credential.

All too often, these programs have been shaped by low expectations, limited funding and entry-level employment as the defined program goal.

Research has shown that current untapped resources are potentially available to provide a significant source of support to out-of-school youth to address their education and labor market needs.

In most states, state education aid to local schools -- ranging from $2,500-$10,000 per student per year -- can support educational opportunities for out-of-school youth. By formally re-enrolling out-of-school youth in local schools, the school districts can draw down these resources, which can then be used to fund providers using alternative curricula approved by the local school district.

Through creative use of this and other significant funding sources from the Job Training Partnership Act (JTPA) -- just replaced by the Workforce Investment Act -- Housing and Urban Development (HUD), Temporary Aid to Needy Families (TANF), Welfare to Work grants, Pell grants and juvenile justice, communities can go a long way toward achieving the goal of developing and sustaining positive connections for out-of-school youth that include alternative pathways to college and career opportunities.

The providers may include community colleges, community organizations, employers and youth program delivery agents. Our experience has shown that these opportunities are not now being realized in most cities. We have also learned, however, that merely providing the opportunity, without the necessary ongoing support of caring adults, may well become a wasted opportunity.

With the support of the DeWitt Wallace and Casey foundations, working with five cities to facilitate the collaborative planning process necessary to assist communities in reaching this goal. As described more fully below, it is clear that the strategies vary in each city. No cookie cutter approach will be successful.

A few of the cities elected to start with a comprehensive approach to system building:--asset mapping, developing a matrix of requisite activities for a finite number of youth, projecting costs and current resources and services to be used as building blocks. Others elected to first focus on developing a pathway to post-secondary education and career opportunities as the building block for a city-wide system for out-of-school youth. The Center is currently working in Baltimore, Denver, Seattle, Philadelphia and Portland, Oregon.

How to Start

One of the critical issues in building a comprehensive, effective out-of-school service system is how to start. Who needs to be involved? What issues to deal with first? Which organization(s) will take the lead role? While each of the cities that have been a part of this effort have taken different approaches for addressing these start-up issues, they share remarkable similarities.

The Players

Each of the cities opted to develop a broad-based community collaborative to plan/implement their out-of-school youth initiative. In all of the cities, the idea of starting with a broad-based team to deal with this challenge was never questioned. While some of the membership of the collaborative differ, each city has formed a coalition that at the core includes:

  • The school district
  • Community based organizations (specifically CBOs that can be projected to be providers of education, employment and training and support services to out-of-school youth)
  • Post secondary institution(s)
  • The Private Industry Council or Workforce Investment Board which is generally seen as representing both employers and local elected officials and agency directors.

    The fact that each of the cities acknowledges that the out-of-school, at-risk youth challenge demands a team effort is a very positive statement. Interestingly, not all of the cities include active representation from groups that could conceivably be contributing players in this effort. For example some -- but not all --of the groups that could be helpful include:

  • The juvenile justice system;
  • Representation from the faith community; and
  • The City youth recreation agency.

    The Initial Focus

    The cities that have joined this effort more recently appear to have included a slightly broader group of organizations and groups in the coalition than the earlier three cities. Perhaps this is a result of a heightened awareness of the resources and effort that will be required to effectively address the at-risk out-of-school youth issue. The initial focus of the cities has differed. As mentioned above, while all are focused upon enhancing and enriching services for out-of-school youth, some of the cities opted to start the process with a systems planning and development effort while others started immediately to develop and implement specific service options for youth. That service option focused on improving preparation for and access to post-secondary education. A brief review of the initial focus for each city is described below.

    Philadelphia opted to take a traditional planning approach to the issues. They have spent time gathering information on the needs of the target population and analyzing the resources available to address the needs. They have established a specific timetable for using the data to create a comprehensive strategic plan.

    Baltimore, after a brief period of outlining a comprehensive approach for building a service system for out-of-school youth and identifying core organizing principles turned its attention to two tasks. The first is developing an approach that will enable alternative providers to tap into available state resources to provide educational services. The second is in developing a model with two high schools and the community college that directly prepares in-school, at-risk youth for a post-secondary tract in specific occupational areas.

    Seattle's effort was spawned by the community colleges in the area. As a first step the regional coalition is now developing partnerships of community colleges with area housing authority sites and community based organizations with the goal of developing five prototype programs of 50 students each beginning in January 1999. Career themes will include information technology, big-technology, health and manufacturing.

    Denver's initial efforts involved the coalition assessing the needs of the youth target group. While the next steps are under consideration, it is anticipated that this city will opt to undertake a strategic planning effort similar to Philadelphia.

    Portland's coalition focus is to transform traditional short-term programs focusing on a GED to longer-term programs emphasizing transition to college and career. The coalition plans to serve 400 students in the 1998-1999 pilot phase and is focused on micro-electronics, health and diversified manufacturing.

    At this time there is not sufficient information or perspective to determine if one approach represents a superior method for addressing the needs of the out-of-school youth population. I n that all five cities share a common goal of ultimately building a comprehensive system at the scale needed to address the youth population that reside in their area, the differences in initial approaches may be marginal in determining ultimate success.

    The Lead Role/Governance

    The organization that originally assumed the lead role in the five cities varies. The lead organization that originally brought the players together in the five cities included school systems, a non-profit organization, and the Mayor's Offices. But unlike most collaborative efforts where the organization that convened the group continues to assume the majority of responsibility for the work of the team, each of the five cities appear to have created a collaborative that has evolved to a point where multiple agencies and organizations are sharing the responsibilities for the total effort In essence a core leadership group within the community collaborative has emerged. While the span of organizations that comprise this core leadership group differs in each of the cities, it does have a striking similarity -- in all instances the PIC/SDA and an educational organization are seen as core leaders and are being looked to as major players in any service effort the team develops.

    Assembling the Resources

    The future of effective programming for out-of-school youth rests on the development of new and redirected resource opportunities. Our experience to data reveals an astonishing lack of knowledge concerning available resources. Part of the dilemma is a result of the "silo" effect of federal funding to local areas. JTPA funds flow to Governors and through them to designated service delivery areas to develop programs and services for disadvantaged youth and adults. HUD funds flow to local Housing Authorities to serve the low- income residents of public housing developments. Juvenile justice funds flow to state and local agencies to address both incarcerated youth and youth in community after care. Federal and state education funding is directed to local school districts based on the per pupil expenditures or average daily attendance of enrolled students. And usually all this funding comes with the admonishment to "coordinate at the local level!"

    To address this dilemma, a few of the cities we are working with elected to start with an asset mapping strategy. Seattle and Portland, however, had a great interest in exploring the potential for State education funds to serve as a significant building block for an out-of-school system youth. Both strategies require a community coalition coming together, agreeing on a common mission, building trust and sharing information. It does not mean combining all funds into a common resource pool. That is both impractical and probably impossible. However, when done well with appropriate assistance, the asset mapping exercise does reveal what strategies are in place, who is being served, who is paying for what, and where the gaps are. This then leads to identification of strategies, services and resources needed for a defined number of youth and a determination of how the existing building blocks may be assembled into a reasonable system for serving these out-of-school youth. The challenge here is getting the commitment of time devoted to the task and maintaining the coalition planning momentum. In Philadelphia, this momentum has been greatly aided by the involvement of the Mayor and his deputy.

    The cities that elected to focus initially on creating enriched educational pathways also faced several challenges. First of all, there is a general lack of knowledge about the availability of state education dollars based on "average daily attendance". There is also a misperception that these dollars, if drawn down to serve out-of-school youth, deplete local educational resources. In fact, these represent new dollars for the school district since they lose the funds when the youth drop out. Time and effort needs to be spent clarifying this issue to allay concerns and possible resistance from school personnel. In Portland, that had been very successful in drawing down state educational dollars for out-of-school youth, programming had been limited to short term programs for GED certification. Levitan Center staff efforts here centered on expanding the use of these resources for building a college and career pathway with all the necessary elements of enhanced curriculum, stipends for work experience, career preparation and social support. In Baltimore, one of the major hurdles is the fact that the state education agency has not yet made a determination to cover GED programs with state core educational resources. Our work with the local team to date has resulted in the state education agency leaning toward covering the educational costs of re-enrolled youth in an alternative setting with the curriculum approved by the local school district. Policy efforts are continuing with state officials, and legislative remedies may be necessary.

    A state cap on per pupil expenditures effectively limits the school district's ability to develop alternative providers in Philadelphia. However, this cap is serving as an incentive for the school district itself to develop alternative enrollment options and aggressive outreach strategies to both dropouts and employee. The next step will be the development of pathways to college and career. In Seattle, because the school district seemed initially removed from the issue, the community college system is taking the lead in drawing down state education dollars to serve this non traditional college population. One of the issues that initially developed is some resistance from academic faculty. Over time, improved student performance and improved college revenues have helped to mitigate that resistance.

    While each of the cities is clearly making progress toward assembling a resource base, the amount of effort needed to clarify state policy and procedures, to determine the possible need for enabling legislation, to develop rigorous alternative curricula based on regional labor market needs and for facilitating a relatively new collaborative process to assemble and utilize resources creatively, should not be minimized.

    Changing Institutional Roles

    The success of any lasting strategy to serve out-of-school youth depends on the development of effective working partnerships and commitment among the decision makers in schools, community colleges, community organizations and employers with the leadership of local elected officials at the core. But recognizing the diverse developmental needs of many youth, inclusion of health, housing, recreation and the faith community is critical to long term success. Many researchers attribute poor results from past youth interventions to a very narrow perspective on how to "fix" them. Clearly traditional educational offerings alone have not worked. Just as clearly, short- term employment and training interventions alone have not been successful. Out-of-school, out-of-work youth bring with them a diverse and complex set of needs that can only be addressed if traditional organizations and institutions are willing to acknowledge the need to change the way they do business. No where is this more needed than in school systems.

    School systems are primarily focused on serving in-school students. Many superintendents view those who have dropped out as disruptive and no longer their responsibility. Even where dropouts are seen as a school responsibility, they must compete with the pressing priorities of today's educational environment such as: newly imposed state standards of excellence, school safety and shrinking budgets. And as mentioned previously, programs for out-of-school-youth must also contend with the false perception that drawing down state education resources to support their needs somehow takes money away from the schools. An additional issue the cities face is the need for school districts that do want to "recover" out-of-school youth to establish an administrative structure for managing alternative programs and to create and monitor academic and curriculum standards. A reasonable solution has been found to this problem, primarily in Portland, where an arrangement to devote a share of the "new" state educational dollars to the home school district to cover these new administrative responsibilities has been agreed to. Another sticky funding issue to be addressed is the lag time between the point at which an out-of-school student is re-enrolled and when school districts are reimbursed with state education dollars for their attendance. Typically, state funds based on enrollment data flow to schools 6-12 months after enrollment. This creates the need for seed money or glue money that can be used to prime the state education pump and cover local educational outlays.

    We have found in this early work that the new school-to-work, school-to-career movement offers a useful paradigm for changing institutional roles and relationships that can benefit out-of-school youth. Schools are now in a mode of developing blended curriculum and using blended faculty (academic and vocational/technical). These new curricula, both secondary and post-secondary, are being developed in consultation with employers in the regional labor market to enhance employment opportunities for graduates. In many communities, employers are assuming an appropriate role by becoming part of the learning process for students. The current tight labor market has certainly contributed to this, but increasingly employers are reporting positive cost benefit returns as a result of their involvement in work based learning for both in-school and out-of-school youth.

    While our findings are preliminary and the analysis tentative, certain facts have become clear. The quality of local leadership, local labor market conditions, consistent technical assistance and a recognition of the high cost of doing nothing ....all have a significant effect on bringing about institutional change. We are learning that this can be a slow and difficult process, but with concerted effort, it need not necessarily be. As our work has evolved, it has become clear that each of the administering entities need capacity building to develop and retain dedicated staff and ongoing technical assistance to sustain the collaborative process in order to develop comprehensive, content- rich systems to enable out-of-school youth to reach their full potential as productive citizens.


    All five cities are to be commended for taking on an issue that most urban areas feel powerless to deal with. Each of the cities are at different stages due to different starting times, different local conditions, different governance structures and different approaches. While it is not possible to predict an "ideal" approach, there is much to be learned from the ongoing efforts the five cities are making to address the needs of at-risk, out-of-school youth in their communities. While, as noted, differences abound, the key similarities among the five cities are striking and offer directions for other cities that are about to start grappling with the at-risk, out-of-school youth challenge. In summary each city:

    Created a collaborative team approach for the planning and/or implementation of their out-of-school youth efforts. This team in every city includes a core of members that are sharing the responsibilities for the development and implementation efforts of the team.

    Affirmed the need to provide an array of services such as the ones articulated in Generation of Challenge. Services include:

  • Pathways to post- secondary education and training;
  • Career employment and training services, paid and unpaid work experience
  • On-going mentoring from a caring adult;
  • Support services;
  • A variety of options by which to earn educational credentials;
  • Intensive employer involvement; and
  • Incorporating the school-to-career model.

    Established a goal of building an approach at a scale needed to address the target population.

    Aggressively and creatively pursued resources -- both traditional and non-traditional- to underwrite the creation of a service system for out-of-school youth.






All rights reserved. 2011. Privacy policy | Terms of use