Increasing Postsecondary Success of Low-Income Young Adults
Building Postsecondary On Ramps and Supports
JFF has embarked on a multiyear effort to increase the quality and quantity of pathways to postsecondary credential attainment for the young people most in danger of being left behind in our economy. JFF is building capacity and advancing the efforts of youth-serving national intermediaries, community-based youth employment and education programs, and community colleges to develop on ramps to postsecondary success for low-income 18-26 year olds, many of whom are out of school and shut out of jobs and careers that lead to economic self-sufficiency.
Many out-of-school and struggling young people lack the credentials, skills, and training required to succeed in today’s competitive economy. New, powerful pathways are needed to improve their outcomes and to fuel major growth industries. It is imperative in the emerging American economy that there is a predictable and steady supply of workers with the skills needed to perform well in entry-level technical and professional jobs. A strong, effective pipeline is essential to maintaining economic growth across the country and to sustaining this nation’s competitiveness in a world market.
Many industrialized nations are responding to their own “pipeline” challenges by increasing the percentage of younger adults with a two-year or four-year college degree. Yet the percentage in the United States has stagnated for 20 years. In fact, the United States has gone from first in the world to tenth in the percentage of adults aged 25-34 with a postsecondary credential.
A main cause of America’s failure to keep pace with the rest of the world in this arena is a persistent and growing achievement gap between low-income students and their more economically advantaged peers. Only 15 percent of low-income students who begin high school are likely to earn a college degree, compared with 50 percent of non-poor students. Lower high school graduation and postsecondary enrollment rates explain part of the disparity, while huge differences in the success rates of students who make it to college explain the rest. College students from families in the bottom 40 percent of the income spectrum are only half as likely to complete a two-year or four-year degree as non-poor students (30 percent completion rate compared with 60 percent).
Meanwhile, our existing postsecondary pathways and delivery systems, particularly for struggling students or low-income youth, remain marginal, under-funded, or ill designed to substantially increase the numbers of young people gaining postsecondary credentials. Too many youth find that traditional paths through remedial education to a first postsecondary degree take many years to complete. On the other hand, short-term training opportunities may be disconnected from employer needs or not intensive enough to ensure rapid connection to and success in the labor market. An effective response to these issues requires that a host of leaders and stakeholders across the country work in tandem to invest in, develop, and scale up new pathways and program designs that significantly reduce our country’s growing postsecondary achievement gap.
JFF, with support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, has launched an initiative that will help build overall field capacity to support stronger program designs and build postsecondary on ramps for disconnected youth. This work will result in the following outcomes:
- A set of effective and well–documented postsecondary on-ramp designs and practices that enable national networks and the larger youth-serving field to accelerate their development and improvement;
- National networks with improved capacity to implement pathways throughout postsecondary;
- A platform of capacity-building services and scale-up vehicles to support rapid transferability and expansion of new and highly effective postsecondary on-ramp program designs; and
- A shared recognition by public- and private-sector leaders and stakeholders of the need for more effective on ramps for disconnected young adults and a shared investment and sustainability strategy.
United States Special Initiatives of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
For more information, contact: