The Chronicle of Higher Education recently interviewed Byron Villagran a former high school dropout who then enrolled in and graduated from a school run by the Los Angeles Conservation Corps. At LACC, Byron’s educational aspirations were reignited and today he has not only earned a diploma, but is well on his way to complete community college and transfer to a four-year college.
There are millions of Byrons across our country who, for a variety of reasons, are not doing well in traditional school settings or have entirely dropped out of school. Byron was fortunate enough to find the LACC school, which is affiliated with the National Youth Employment Coalition’s Postsecondary Success Initiative. The programs in that initiative not only help former dropouts complete high school but also prepare for and succeed in postsecondary education.
When young people like Byron do not find a pathway that gets them back on track to valued credentials, it costs society dearly both in terms of lost tax revenue and increased social expenditures, not to mention high imprisonment rates and other corollary consequences such as decreased human capital, fractured families, and impoverished communities. Clearly, it is in our common interest to work both inside and outside of school systems to increase the graduation rate. But with 6.7 million 16-24 year olds (nearly one in six of this age group in the U.S.) already out of school and unemployed, we also need a recovery strategy. We need to ensure that young people have a way to get back on track to a diploma or GED and most importantly to a postsecondary credential that leads to a well-paying job.
A solution is to invest in, build, and scale clear and career-connected pathways to postsecondary credentials that lead to gainful employment. In the long run, these formerly dismissed young people get jobs and become productive citizens so that our society as a whole benefits from it.
Mamadou Ndiaye is a senior project manager at JFF, which works with its partners to design and drive adoption of education and career pathways leading from college readiness to career advancement for those struggling to succeed in today’s economy.