Postsecondary Success Initiative

Back on Track Designs

Reengaging Opportunity Youth

Reengaging youth and young adults who are off track to graduation, or disconnected from both education and work, and putting them on a path to postsecondary credentials.

Lili Allen
Associate Vice President, Reconnection Strategies and Designs
617.728.4446 x105

Postsecondary Success Initiative

With funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Open Society Foundations, JFF is supporting the efforts of its partners—YouthBuild USA, the National Youth Employment Coalition (NYEC), and the Corps Network, along with their networks of local sites and affiliated community colleges—and providing them with technical expertise, tools, products, and services to strengthen their program designs in order to increase the number of low-income youths aged 18-26 earning a postsecondary credential with value in the labor market. Learn more about national youth-serving networks below, and their ambitious effort to create momentum toward postsecondary credits and credentials among young people who are low income, mostly minority, and disconnected from both education and the workforce.

Activities and Strategies

To help build overall field capacity to support strong program designs, and build on ramps to postsecondary education, JFF, in supporting its partners, is undertaking three sets of activities:

  • Assisting YouthBuild USA and the National Youth Employment Coalition to share and strengthen promising practices in their networks of programs and build the technical capability to support the growth of these designs, while also engaging new postsecondary partners and policymakers. Both networks are supported by the United States Special Initiatives program of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
  • Conducting research and development essential to refining and expanding a Back on Track pathway. JFF conducts site visits to “best in class” programs across the country: those that show early success in preparing youth to enter and persist in postsecondary education. Learning from and codifying best practices, JFF develops products and services for building capacity to scale up such programs across the country. JFF will draw on the embedded professional development and “clinical site” approach of the University Park Campus School Institute for Student Success to inform the scale-up effort.
  • Elevating the importance of a Back on Track pathway and building demand and conditions to sustain it. JFF disseminates key lessons, strategies, and implications to the broader field, reaching out to a diverse group of stakeholders, including intermediaries, community agencies, the workforce system, and higher education institutions. In addition, we partner with state and federal policymakers to remove policy obstacles and create the enabling conditions and resources to support and sustain this work.

National Youth-serving Networks

National networks of youth-serving organizations are important vehicles for developing and scaling up Back on Track Through College Designs in multiple sites. These networks often have an infrastructure in place for professional development and can support cross-site sharing of practices to drive more effective designs.

Working with JFF, YouthBuild USA, National Youth Employment Coalition (NYEC), and the Corps Network are building on their long history of outreach and support to the country's most vulnerable and neglected youth and young adults. They are helping local affiliated schools and community-based programs to enrich their academic offerings, create bridges to postsecondary education, and collaborate with postsecondary partners to build supports to ensure that young people get the academic momentum they need to attain a postsecondary credential. Central to this effort are partnerships, codified in memoranda of understanding between community colleges and local schools and programs.

In putting the Back on Track model in place, YouthBuild USA, NYEC, and the Corps Network assisted by JFF, have built their capacity to provide technical assistance and support to a total of 29 participating sites and two dozen affiliated college partners across 15 states. (The Corps Network joined the effort in 2011 and will establish sites soon.) All 29 sites are committed to improving postsecondary attainment of the young people participating in their programs. Strong "communities of practice" among the sites and their community college partners have enabled these innovators to grapple with key challenges to implementing pathways for their students to and through a first year of college, as well as to surface and showcase the strongest innovations at both the secondary and postsecondary levels (including developmental education).

Across the initiative, young people's aspirational goals have become a reality for the first cohort of students:

  • 71 percent of all students entering YouthBuild USA's first cohort of Postsecondary Success Initiative sites earned a high school diploma or GED—even though over 90 percent of them had dropped out of previous schools and many were disconnected from both school and work.
  • Of the YouthBuild USA graduates, 51 percent enrolled in postsecondary education and 59 percent persisted through their first year.
  • NYEC's PSI-identified cohort of students had an 87 percent enrollment rate in postsecondary education, and approximately 75 percent of these students persisted through a semester or more of postsecondary education.

The Postsecondary Success Initiative uses the Back on Track Through College design to get students who have dropped out to and through postsecondary education. Back on Track pathways that provide students with what they need to succeed in postsecondary education include:

  • College-ready academic skills;
  • Solid advice and transition counseling to match students with best available postsecondary programs of study and credentials; and
  • Habits of mind, personal attributes, and life skills needed for college and career success.

Postsecondary Success Initiative Brief: Pathway to Recovery: Implementing a Back on Track Through College Model