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Opportunity Works

A national effort that paved pathways to college and career success for 2,000+ youth who were out of school and work—and proved the impact of JFF’s Back on Track model.

April 19, 2018

At a Glance

A national effort that paved pathways to college and career success for 2,000+ youth who were out of school and work—and proved the impact of JFF’s Back on Track model.

There are 4.6 million opportunity youth who aspire to succeed but are locked out of the labor market without a path to a family-supporting wage, with dire consequences for them and for the country.

We now know what works for these young people: a rigorous, independent evaluation found that Back on Track postsecondary bridging implemented in Opportunity Works doubled the postsecondary enrollment rate of opportunity youth, and improved it six-fold for young men of color.

The Keys to Opportunity Works’ Success

Put community-based organizations at the center of the work to assemble local partnerships, and provide them with expert coaching

Use a model that is specific enough to guide practice and flexible enough to be used in different contexts

Plan for scale and sustainability from day one.

Hire staff who can relate to young people and deliver quality programming

Executive Summary

Opportunity Works was a three-year effort led by JFF to help opportunity youth—young people ages 16 to 24 who are not in school or meaningfully employed—access postsecondary and career pathways. Based on the Back on Track framework, seven cities across the country undertook collective impact approaches with diverse partners to provide supportive, enhanced preparation and postsecondary/career bridging for eligible young people, with a particular focus on young men of color.

A quasi-experimental evaluation conducted by the Urban Institute in three Opportunity Works sites found large, consistent, positive effects on participants’ postsecondary enrollment and increased connection with either education or employment about one year after program entry. Specifically, Opportunity Works participants were twice as likely to enroll in college and 25 percent more likely to be in either education or employment. Postsecondary results were even greater for young men of color, who were nearly six times as likely to enroll in college. This report also includes insights and lessons from qualitative field research.

JFF Staff Involved in the Successful Opportunity Works Project

Lili Allen

Senior Advisor

Lili Allen is a senior advisor at Jobs for the Future.  In that role, she contributes to the development of strategy and the provision of technical assistance for the organization’s work with states, regions, and…

Michael Sack

Senior Fellow

Michael Sack is a visiting senior fellowat JFF, where he works on several initiatives aimed atimproving pathways to college and career success for opportunity youth, including two social innovation fund projects (OpportunityWorks and Learn and…

Mamadou Ndiaye


Mamadou Ndiaye is a director in Solutions Design & Delivery at JFF. He works with communities nationwide to design, codify, implement, and scale Back on Track programs aimed at increasing the quality and quantity of…

Sandra Jadotte

Executive Assistant

Sandra Jadotte is an executive assistant in the Education practice at JFF. She provides support to advance the organization’s demand-driven strategies by identifying, cultivating, and engaging sector-based partnerships and bridging the relationship between employers, community-based…

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