Early Wins for Opportunity Youth with the Back on Track Through College Model

Published oct. 03, 2012

“I’ll be the first one attending college from my family. My brothers look up to me and they want to do what I do. Now that I’m attending college, they want to go to college and it makes me happy that they want to because of me.” —Rosa Mendoza, graduate, LA Conservation Corps; college student, Los Angeles Technical College

“I want to succeed, I want to exceed—that’s why I want to go to college.” —Daniel Hurtado, student, Coalition for Responsible Community Development

Dozens of people gathered at Los Angeles Trade Technical College on Tuesday, September 25, to celebrate programs implementing a new Back on Track Through College pathway for opportunity youth. Featured speakers included inspiring Los Angeles Trade Technical College students (and graduates of the pathway programs at the Los Angeles Conservation Corps and the Coalition for Responsible Community Development), and representatives from JFF, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, YouthBuild USA, the National Youth Employment Coalition, and various friends and supporters of the Back on Track work in Los Angeles.

Back on Track Through College pathways have been highlighted recently through the work of Opportunity Nation, The White House Council on Community Solutions, and The Aspen Institute—and for good reason. Since fall 2009, as part of the Postsecondary Success Initiative (PSI), JFF and Brandeis University have been collecting data on 15 local programs affiliated with YouthBuild USA and the National Youth Employment Coalition and their community college partners as they implemented the Back on Track Through College model. This initiative—funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Open Society Foundations, New Profit, Inc., and the Nellie Mae Education Foundation—enabled these programs to help opportunity youth get onto a Back on Track pathway that includes an enriched academic secondary program, postsecondary bridging opportunities, and supports during their first year of college to help them persist and succeed in postsecondary education.

This initiative is improving education outcomes for off-track and out-of-school youth, aged 16-26. From 2009-2012, PSI programs have served more than 1,700 youth. Early data show that our model is working. Young people are beating the odds, not just of high school completion, but of postsecondary enrollment and—much more important—of persistence in postsecondary education. Eighty percent of those who enter PSI programs without a high school credential earn a high school diploma or GED, over 50 percent of them are entering college. And of those who enter college, early data suggests that at least half persist into a second year.

What does this pathway to postsecondary look like?

Nearly all students receive enriched academic support, with a focus on improved academic skills, test preparation, and development of career-related skills. Complementary to this academic support, students are also provided with postsecondary bridging opportunities—each one of the programs involved in the PSI initiative have community college partners—ensuring that postsecondary opportunities are integrated into their experience as they earn their high school diploma or GED. Additionally, a majority receive some form of individualized support services—a mix of case management, academic advising, mentoring, and individual tutoring.

These programs continue to provide opportunity and viable pathways for students facing significant barriers. There was much to celebrate in Los Angeles, and there is much to celebrate in each of the programs involved in the Postsecondary Success Initiative. Currently, there is urgency in national discussions about the economy, education, and those youth and young adults being left behind. The Back on Track Through College model and others like it can provide a framework and practical steps toward supporting opportunity youth to and through postsecondary and into a family-sustaining career path.

JFF and its partners are continuing to scale this model. Data continues to be collected by the programs in the Postsecondary Success Initiative. Updated information will be available in spring 2013.