Moving High School Dropouts “Back on Track” Through Innovative Partnerships

Published feb. 04, 2014

MDRC’s recently released report, Beyond the GED: Promising Models for Moving High School Dropouts to College, is timely given the recent launch of a new GED test in states across the country. While much attention has been directed at developing a more up-to-date test, less attention has been directed at the implications of this work for GED programs themselves.

Leaders and practitioners operating within a landscape of limited resources, small programs, and even smaller staffs are understandably anxious about whether they will be able to assist their participants to adequately prepare for and pass more rigorous GED tests, and whether the more expensive test will prove prohibitive to their clients. It’s both necessary and helpful for program leaders and staff to connect with new and promising approaches that build in more intensity of preparation, additional and longer-term supports, and strong transition supports. The MDRC report is a needed resource for the field at this critical point in time.

Jobs for the Future has also been heavily invested in developing and scaling a Back on Track Through College GED model in advance of the new test, working with national youth-serving networks such as YouthBuild USA, The National Youth Employment Network, and The Corps Network. Through these and related JFF initiatives situated within community colleges (such Accelerating Opportunity), JFF has worked with a host of innovative programs including many cited in the report. Based on this work, we have developed and assembled resources and tools to assist youth leaders in redesigning their programs.

One lesson we have learned from this work is how important it is for community-based, youth-serving GED programs to partner with local postsecondary institutions. Strong partnerships include assistance from the college in building into the curricula the academic skills and behaviors needed for college success. Partnerships also help leverage staff and resources, enabling the program to provide bridge programming—either through delivering instruction of first postsecondary courses on-site (using adjunct faculty) or moving students onto the campus for these supported first courses. Joint work by the program and participating postsecondary institution better enables collaborators to fashion supports once students enroll at the postsecondary institution. These supports include helping students navigate everything from enrollment and student loans, to forming study groups and accessing resources on campus.

Through such efforts, former dropouts can indeed get “back on track” to a postsecondary credential. Yes, it will cost more than is typically allocated for GED programming. But it will also greatly increase the return on investment. Currently, fewer than 10 percent of GED completers who enter a postsecondary institution complete a credential or degree. If GED programs with a Back on Track design can help even 25% of their graduates to succeed in postsecondary education, savings in increased tax revenue and reduced costs will be about $5 for every $1 invested. Through robust partnerships between high schools and colleges, we can guide all of our nation’s youth to reaching their full potential.