Katherine S. Newman and Robert D. Putnam

Consider the following alarming statistics about our young adults. Among those aged 16 to 24, 6.7 million, or about one in seven, were both out-of-school and out-of-work in 2012, a state that put them at great risk for a life of unemployment and poverty.[1] That same year, only 45 percent of students from the lowest economic quartile had enrolled in a two-year or four-year college[2]—a sizeable proportion of whom, recent statistics suggest, will never graduate.[3] These trends hurt us enormously. Providing inadequate training and education for our current 16-24 year olds, according to one estimate, will cost taxpayers an estimated $1.6 trillion—and society an estimated $4.7 trillion—over the next 30 years.[4]

Ignoring these problems is not only costly but also fundamentally unfair. America’s social compact is that hard work and talent, not parental wealth, should shape one’s life chances—but today poor youth with the highest test scores graduate college only as frequently wealthy students with below-average test scores.[5] What we need are “on-ramps” – new policies and institutions — that help at-risk youth get on the road toward a life of meaningful employment and social engagement and then stay the course. Recommendations from our other working groups (Early Childhood and K-12 years) would help reduce the need for these on-ramps in the future, but we need to act with urgency now to help the current generation and their children.

Fortunately, we know how to make a difference. Effective interventions in the United States and other countries have taught us in recent years what works best in helping young adults to be more successful in education and the workplace, and in forestalling further growth in the opportunity gap.[6] This means we can now design new interventions, carefully evaluate them, and hold the institutions they support accountable for spending public money responsibly, all of which will allow policymakers to invest in with confidence. We’ll discuss intervention ideas below, but first we’ll lay out the principles that have guided our thinking.

Guiding Principles

Reducing importance of family backgrounds: Many decisions that shape career training and education are affected by unequal family income or education. These include: search patterns for high schools and colleges; knowledge about how one trains for careers, and what they pay; having contacts in a profession to arrange internships or get advice; determining majors or the right sequence of courses; learning how to interact with faculty and seek help; patterns of participation in academic and social extracurricular activities; having adequate study time while working in school and coping with unpredictable family demands or crises. The cultural capital that enables some families to guide their young creates vastly uneven playing fields, so we need institutions that can provide equality-promoting on-ramps such as counseling, alumni networks, and financial aidompletion rates, student-debt levels, and the payoffs from degrees. We also need second-chance “on-ramp” programs to surround skill-building and education with family-like cultures of peer and adult support that provide students with safety, respect, and guidance.

Making education more student-centric, especially for low-income studentsEducational institutions need to be more cost-effective, and hence lower the cost to society per degree, even if this requires additional investments to increase the graduation rate. But we must also focus on quality and avoid eroding it in favor of solutions that lower cost but diminish the real value of the degree. Technology has an important role to play, and we need rigorous R&D to determine how best to leverage it. Nonetheless, personal relationships with teachers and administrators are particularly important for students from less-educated households.

Making education responsive to labor market. Nearly all successful American youth eventually end up working. For this reason, helping all children – especially the disadvantaged — develop a sense of their talents and interests early on, dwelling on the relationship between education and their imagined careers, would enable better long-range planning and matching of personal interests and aptitudes with future occupations. Exposure to the adult world of work helps to reinforce the importance of present choices for securing desirable futures and provides important motivation. Whether students are in liberal arts, vocational, or comprehensive second-chance training programs, all of them need to emerge capable of creative problem-solving, offering quality improvement suggestions, and working in teams. Liberal-arts courses and demanding vocational educational can develop such competencies and prepare graduates for the knowledge economy in our globalized world.

Prevention: Remediation is necessary, but it is costly. We need to continue to reduce school dropouts and ensure that youth and young adults make effective life transitions so that it isn’t needed. However, we also need to be ready with on-ramps that can offer a second chance to disconnected youth, and can re-integrate and train ex-prisoners.

Evaluation is critical. We don’t dwell on evaluation in this report, because most mayors or local businesses don’t want to fund it, but we believe it to be critical. Holding institutions accountable for outcomes only makes sense if they are investing in interventions that can be certain will make a difference and be cost-effective.


This working group focused on four main topics, which we will discuss below. 

1) Reforming educational institutions and incarceration to reduce “off-ramps” for young adults

Dropping out of school and floundering in the labor market are symptoms of inequality and cumulative disadvantage, not, as some people seem to believe, deficient moral character, inadequate teachers, or the excessive financial costs of schooling. To address these problems, we need to reform the educational institutions serving young people (high schools, two- and four-year colleges so that fewer students drop out,[7] by employing such strategies as creating smaller schools to reduce impersonal and anomic experiences,[8] investing in more intensive advising, and reforming curriculum to scaffold success more effectively. Such strategies can limit the need for remediation courses, which are often a dead-end for students, and ensure that more students graduate from high school and community-colleges. We also favor reducing reliance on incarceration in America and investing in education and training to ensure that ex-convicts will develop productive life trajectories.

Community colleges are critical pathways in this country to upward mobility and opportunity—a linchpin for many Americans struggling to further their skills and employability. But they are too complex for the most disadvantaged students to navigate.

Perhaps the most dispiriting outcome of America’s community college system is that nearly two thirds of their students drop out before receiving any degree or transferring to a four-year institution.[9] To increase their navigability, community colleges should implement what Thomas Bailey, a member of our working group, calls “guided pathways,”[10] which give greater program coherence and scaffolding. Specifically, two-year colleges should provide first-year experiences that enable goal setting,[11] simpler and more coherent choices, and default educational pathways.

Students in community colleges also need more intensive advising and tracking, because many come from families and neighborhoods lacking the knowledge to advise them about courses and careers, or about bureaucratic hurdles such completing extensive financial-aid forms and organizing course schedules. Adding advisors may raise the yearly costs for community colleges but would lower the cost per student degree, by ensuring that more community-college students graduate.[12] Technology may also help students track their progress, and school counselors target the issues that students most need.[13] Our group does not advocate lowering counseling quality or replacing personal support with technological support.

Rethinking developmental education (also known as “remediation”): Developmental education is often too little too late for many students: they never successfully make the transition to for-credit classes at community college.[14] Students don’t realize that in taking developmental classes they are not earning college credit, even though they are drawing down available Pell Grant–funding and then amassing debt. We believe that as far as possible, academic deficiencies need to be the focus of remedial attention in middle school and high school[15]; We should also reconsider whether the courses that cause the highest demand for remediation, especially algebra, are really needed for the occupations students are trying to access.[16] Where possible, community colleges should integrate remediation into for-credit courses, rather than provide it as a stand-alone offering[17]; and should reconsider whether these courses are needed at all.[18]

Decarceration. One of the most harmful “off ramps” in the US today is that of mass incarceration. It is responsible for taking millions of people, especially young men from minority communities, off the road to jobs and appropriate family responsibilities and returning them to society so damaged that they are unable to reconnect with any meaningful pathway to adult responsibility. Experts and bipartisan groups of reformers agree that U.S. incarceration policies and practices today are harmful to inmates, their families, and society at large[19]—and are unnecessary to keep Americans safe.[20] We recommend five approaches to decarceration. First, we should reform sentencing guidelines to reduce mandatory-minimum and “war on drugs” sentences, which are unnecessarily long and punitive. Second, we should help prisoners develop career skills, literacy, non-cognitive work skills, and prosocial behaviors, so that they are better prepared to find legal employment upon release.[21] Third, we should eliminate post-release barriers to employment,[22] public housing, public services, and voting rights, which make re-entering society difficult. Fourth, upon their release, we should offer ex-prisoners access to social services and transitional one-year community-service positions, so that they can gain the skills necessary to re-enter the workforce.[23] Fifth, we should introduce parole and re-entry reforms such as developing a post-release life plan with inmates, providing cognitive-behavioral interventions,[24] providing them with transitional housing or substance-abuse treatment, and reducing reimprisonment of ex-inmates for technical violations of parole terms if they are on the path to community reintegration.[25] These approaches are increasingly bipartisan and could both lower incarceration and prison-building costs, and the associated savings could be put toward enhancing opportunity for low-income youth.

2) Developing and strengthening engaging linkages between career and education

We need a more effective workforce-training system to equip today’s youth with the skills needed to compete—one that starts earlyby giving our youth more intentional and exciting exposure to the world of work.[26] This motivates them for the long educational road ahead and helps them choose courses or programs that would prepare them.[27] Other countries – especially Germany and Austria — do a better job of this, by (a) exposing all students to demanding career and technical education; (b) engaging employers, unions, and educational institutions in building training that produces young people with certified, advanced skills; and (c) enabling serious and sustained exposure to work through apprenticeships, co-ops, internships, and planned experiences.[28]

Many of us today think of vocational education as what it used to be, involving dull, undemanding classes in “shop” and “home economics” that are not strongly connected to future careers. But many high schools are now pioneering or furthering high-quality career and technical education (called CTE or CATE).[29] These programs can also engage students who learn better by doing, through applied and inductive learning. This CTE training prepares students for both college and careers, and should be made available to all (although more should be required for students immediately going into careers). Successful examples include Career Academies.[30] High Schools that Work/Linked Learning, and Small Schools of Choice[31]:

Work-based learning: Apprenticeships that coordinate classroom and on-the-job learning can often create very helpful on-ramps. The practice is growing in the United States[32] but is still used far less than in some other counties (e.g., Germany and the UK). In Germany, and in most union-based U.S. models, an industry-educational group must agree on the competencies that a given apprenticeship must develop, and these competencies must have broader relevance beyond the specific employer. Non-union U.S. apprenticeships are typically more employer-specific. Apprentices also benefit because their on-the-job supervisor often unofficially serves as a career mentor or coach. Apprenticeships have worked in a wide range of settings in the U.S., including high-unionization (e.g., Wisconsin) and low-unionization environments (e.g., South Carolina).[33] To be successful, states or localities need to establish an intermediary to recruit schools and businesses to collaboratively train the talent needed for existing and new businesses. In some cases, as in South Carolina or Georgia, business are offered small tax credits to participate as sites for apprentices—credits more than offset by tax revenues from graduates’ downstream employment. Many apprenticeships enable students to earn college degrees while working, so that they can develop transferable skills if they decide to change jobs or fields.[34]

3) Smoothing the transitions between educational institutions to further educational attainment

Wherever possible, we should reduce the number of students lost in the transitions between high school and college, between high school and community college, and between community college and four-year institutions. The youth who fail to make these transitions are disproportionately from lower-income households and can least afford the losses. Our group also recommends making career paths more flexible, so than an on-ramp for apprenticeships, for example, can enable those who are interested to pursue college degrees thereafter.[35]

Our group recommends two strategies to smooth the transition from high school to college or career: dual enrollment and early college.

In dual-enrollment programs, students take credited college classes in high school, either at the high school itself or at a nearby college.[36] Such dual-enrollment programs are growing rapidly: in 2012, 71 percent of high schools offered them and had a total enrollment of 800,000 students.[37] Students in dual-enrollment programs attend college more often, have higher college grades, and persist more at college.[38] Having students take college classes not at their high school but at a college appears especially effective at encouraging college-going. The challenge is that dual-enrollment seats increasingly go to middle-class students, not lower-income students. If local leaders are starting or expanding such programs, a sizeable share of seats should be allotted to low-income students.[39]

Early college (or grades 9-14), the other strategy we recommend, offers students the opportunity to enroll in an associate-degree college program while still in high school. Since 2002, students at some 240 high schools nationwide (among them PTECH; see box) have offered an early-college option. Students in these programs can obtain an associate degree (AA) by the summer after their normal high school graduation. Enrollment in such programs has been shown to increase AA degree-completion rates, especially for disadvantaged populations.[40] []

Although 81 percent of students who enter community college seek a BA, only 25 percent actually obtain one.[41] This highlights the need to smooth the transition from community college to baccalaureate college. Our group recommends two strategies: clearer course-credit transfers and clearer career pathways between these institutions.

Many baccalaureate institutions don’t know the quality of the courses taught at community colleges in their state, or they resist credit transfers from community-college students, because these would undercut demand for introductory baccalaureate courses and the faculty who teach them. In either case, the need for a smoother transfer here is clear: when students take duplicative courses, it wastes government funds and students’ time, increases students’ debt load, and it discourages many from graduating. Ideally, faculty at community and baccalaureate institutions should meet to agree on what is required for credit to transfer, but in the absence of agreement, requirements can be imposed legislatively.[42] Once this is worked out, common course numbering (as Florida has done and Arizona did through its AZTransfer system) should be used, so that the course number itself indicates whether community-college students will get credit for their classes at four-year institutions.[43]

States should also smooth this transfer through novel programs that span two-year and four-year colleges. For example, the University of Massachusetts at Amherst has established an Honors-to-Honors program, which provides scholarships to honors graduates of Massachusetts’ community colleges who are accepted into the university’s Commonwealth Honors College. The University of New Hampshire and other colleges in New Hampshire’s university system have started new dual-admission programs enabling the state’s community-college students to seamlessly transfer into UNH’s College of Liberal Arts for a bachelor’s degree upon completing their associate degree and maintaining a cumulative grade point average of 2.5 or higher. Such programs, instituted much more broadly, will give students clearer pathways. Community colleges and baccalaureate institutions should work together to organize programs that unfold partly on one campus and partly on another, lowering the cost of education for the student.

4) Supporting on-ramps to enable disconnected youth [44] to lead meaningful, productive lives[45]

For those young people not in the military, not in school, not employed, and not incarcerated, we need structured comprehensive second-chance programs[46] and well-supported federal, state, and local programs that are partially social work, partially educational, and largely embedded in workforce training.

The most impactful youth-development programs focus on one or more of the following pathways: 1) secondary-degree completion coupled with college prep, to avoid expensive uncredited remedial classes; 2) job training through industry-recognized certifications and hands-on training; and 3) national service programs designed to engage disadvantaged populations in service. These pathways are most effective when one feeds into another: e.g., a short-term training program leads to a longer-term apprenticeship, or youth completing a GED are counseled about postsecondary possibilities.

Given the need for brevity, we do not focus on the U.S. public workforce system, which provides over $10 billion in resources to programs such as JobCorps[47] and Trade Adjustment Assistance, though we believe these are worthy and important programs. Instead, we dwell on some promising other steps in reconnecting disconnected youth.

Secondary-Degree Completion Programs: Today’s labor market values a GED far less than a traditional high school degree, and even the latter rarely enables graduates to secure a living wage. Nevertheless, a GED often unlocks postsecondary education for disconnected youth. Moreover, since 2014, the GED test has become more rigorous, which may increase the value of the degree. We should therefore make encouraging GED completion a priority. Three programs do this particularly successfully: Gateway to College is a Gates Foundation–funded effort in which high school dropouts between the ages of 15 and 21 work simultaneously on graduating from high school (or getting a GED) and attending college.[48] The Program pairs school districts and community colleges and can entice other family members to get involved. National Guard Challenge Program is a 17-month Job Corps–type residential program, run by the U.S. military, for students between the ages of 15 and 18 who have left high school without a diploma. A randomized trial showed that 76 percent of participants obtained GEDs compared to 56 percent in the control group, and earned 20 percent more in the labor market. Finally, the LaGuardia Bridge program, run by LaGuardia Community College to provide an on-ramp to health and business careers, focuses on teaching students to pass the GED by packaging a curriculum around their career interests. The program has been found to more than double GED pass rates and more than triple community-college enrollment.[49]

Youth Development programs: community and national service: Some national service programs deliberately engage disconnected youth and aim to holistically provide them with GED skills, leadership and team building, job skills, and citizenship engagement. One program that has delivered highly promising results for 20 years is YouthBuild,[52] currently undergoing a 75-site MDRC randomized trial.


Funding: Investments in education and career-training pathways are necessary for a prosperous economy and a workforce that can compete globally in the long term. We recognize the political challenges involved in making such investments but feel strongly that they lead to savings for communities and the country as a whole. For example, as noted earlier, spending more on counseling, to discourage students from taking wasted courses or reducing dropout rates, can reduce the cost per degree obtained.[53] Educational institutions and second-chance programs need to focus on access, retention, and graduation. But we need to develop a “realistic accountability” that factors in the significant complexity and difficulty that institutions face when they work with disadvantaged students.

States have increased their overall investments in higher education,[54] but enrollments have outpaced these investments, and the amount of state funding per student at public colleges has consequently gone down. We encourage states to follow the model of California and Washington State,[55] which have recently supported increased targeted investments in higher education, coupled with agreements that tuitions would remain frozen for some period of time. We also encourage efforts to make community college tuition-free—although making community college truly free would require covering non-tuition costs as well (transportation, child care, etc.). [56]

Reforms and accountability: We need to provide community colleges with more resources[57] but also must hold them accountable for meaningful outcomes within their control (for example, the percentage of students that successfully transfer to a four-year college or the proportion who earn technical certificates and enter the workforce). Given that many students in community colleges have troubled educational backgrounds, some scholars argue that we should develop metrics that measure the “distance traveled” by students in community colleges (e.g., their educational improvement from matriculation).[58] Moreover, it makes no sense that community colleges are rewarded only by how many student seats are filled and not by whether they provide high labor returns or meet the greatest student needs. With current incentives, community colleges will offer more courses in the liberal arts than in equipment-intensive technical courses such as nursing or welding or IT, even though these courses are in high demand. The reason for this is simple: technical courses cost more. So our group recommends offering additional funding to community colleges with two possible stipulations: (1) that it be used for guidance and for technical courses, and (2) that it be tied to results.

Licensure: Youth from less-educated backgrounds have fallen prey to aggressive and deceptive advertising by various for-profit colleges. State regulators must take their licensure responsibilities seriously and close down or decertify schools that are not effectively graduating students or providing degrees and certificates valued by the labor market.

Debt: In a rational and predictable world, given the significant returns of obtaining higher education, more low-income youth would take out debt to attend. But given the lack of financial sophistication of low-income students, the chaos and unpredictability of their lives, many low-income students resist increasing debt. Our group did not come to a shared answer on debt other than advocating that income-based repayment schemes might be more widely employed for low-income students who have two years of college and are more confident of their ability to graduate.

Business: Our group did not come to agreement on how best to engage businesses as funding partners, as they are in some other countries. The need for such partnerships is obvious, because businesses thrive when they have access to an educated workforce, and possibilities abound for creative voluntary arrangements—in vocational education and apprenticeships, in community-college collaborations, in non-profit job-training programs, and more. The challenge our group identified is that uneven state taxation levels might drive companies to lower-tax states that are not making these sorts of investments.

Our current “BA-for-all” policy has deprived disadvantaged Americans of vital on-ramps to jobs. To bring about meaningful change, we recommend increasing early exposure to potential careers, to make all young Americans more thoughtful about where they want to head and how to get there. We also recommend developing pathways of the sort discussed in this report to help Americans realize the many respectable ways they can achieve a stable and comfortable living without the need for a four-year degree. At the same time, we recommend a focus on off-ramps, too, so that disconnected youth are given a second chance at success and meaningful lives.

[1] J Bridgeland & T Mason-Elder, “National Roadmap for Opportunity Youth,” Civic Enterprises (2012); note: The Measure of America study estimated the disconnected youth population as 5,800,000 and concluded that 2,800,000 of these (or 54 percent) are poor.

[2] And in 2012 only 9 percent of students from the lowest economic quartile obtained a four-year BA degree versus 77 percent of students from the highest economic quartile, and in 2012 only 13 percent of students in the lowest income quartile starting at a two-year college completed an associate degree 6 years later. See: “Indicators of Higher Education Equity in the United States: 45 Year Trend Report,” Pell Institute (2015); National Center for Education Statistics, Digest of Education Statistics, 2013.

[3] The share of young people attending college has increased 50 percent since 1973, but only slightly over half (59 percent) of students beginning at a four-year institution receive a BA degree within six years and only 39 percent of first-time community college goers obtain a degree or certificate from a two- or four-year college within six years. See: D Shapiro, A Dundar, et al., “Completing College: A National View of Student Attainment Rates—Fall 2008 Cohort (Signature Report No. 8),” National Student Clearinghouse Research Center (Nov. 2014).

[4] The taxpayer costs cover items such as lower tax revenue, and to a lesser extent increased incarceration and welfare costs. The societal costs are larger than taxpayer costs since they includes private societal losses uncompensated by greater governmental expenditure, such as private costs of crime or slower aggregate economic growth. CR Belfield, and HM Levin, “The Economics of Investing in Opportunity Youth,” Opportunity Nation Summit (Sept. 2012).

[5] S Dynarski, “For the Poor, the Graduation Gap Is Even Wider Than the Enrollment Gap,“ New York Times (June 2, 2015).

[6] Note: while our discussion was broad-based, some important topics were not discussed and are not in this discussion: financial aid, the military, or for apprenticeships, and the broader public workforce systems, which includes $10 billion of federal resources in programs like WIOAJobCorpsTrade Adjustment Assistance (TAA).

[7] Our group did not directly discuss reducing the high school dropout rate, but the K-12 chapter does. In addition, groups such as America’s Promise, in partnership with others, have developed strategies for decreasing high school dropout rates; see the Building a Grad Nation report.

[8] See discussion in K-12 chapter.

[9] Community college completion rates are also low because they are open access institutions where many students require pre-college development courses (e.g., remediation), the students and their families have lots of outside problems and instability, and many of the hidden costs of community college are not funded (e.g., living costs, childcare costs or transportation). For answers to basic questions relating to community colleges and completion rates, see: http://ccrc.tc.columbia.edu/Community-College-FAQs.html. It is worth noting that many community college students need to take part-time jobs unrelated to their field of study (e.g., working in food service while pursuing a nursing degree) and this unrelated work impedes the ability to graduate from community college. See cf. JS Clayton and V Minaya, “Should Student Employment Be Subsidized? Conditional Counterfactuals and the Outcomes of Work-Study Participation,” NBER Working Paper 20329 (July 2014). Some community colleges have interesting co-op programs to enable students to pursue related paid work while in community colleges, for example, auto tech training programs where students can earn while they learn. See for example, https://www.gmasep.org/.

[10] Community colleges today resemble a cafeteria that maximizes student choice. But, unlike a cafeteria, where the worst outcome is a non-tasty or unhealthy entree, the cost of not choosing courses wisely in community college can be profound: students can spend thousands of dollars but fail to obtain certificates or degrees, or can accumulate courses that don’t generate credits if they transfer to a four-year university. Students who drop out are perhaps the most disadvantaged, with heavy debt burdens and no higher salaries. Community-college students, especially given the complexity of their lives, do better when presented with a set of coherent, more limited choices. Students should be assigned a default program/pathway unless the student opts out after talking to his/her advisor. For much more detail on this “guided pathway” approach, see TR Bailey, SS Jaggars and D Jenkins, Redesigning America’s Community Colleges (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2015).

[11] Specifically, first-year seminars, projects, experiences, and counselling can enable students to set longer-term goals and understand how their shorter-term actions feed into those long-term goals. Individualized-learning plans, discussed later in this chapter, are also an effective tool for community-college students.

[12] See S Scrivener et al., “Doubling Graduation Rates: Three-Year Effects of CUNY’s Accelerated Study in Associate Programs (ASAP) for Developmental Education Students,“ MDRC (Feb. 2015).

[13] Students and advisors can use technology to track their progress and identify if they are off-track, but the purpose is to tailor one-on-one advising time more effectively. Simplified course pathways make advising easier, but for community colleges with complex choices of educational pathways, technology can help notify students about the next courses in their sequence and when they are offered. Technology can enable students to set weekly goals that they and their advisors can track. An example of a successful technological advising system is “InsideTrack” advising (subjected to a rigorous randomized test). See: E Bettinger and R Baker, “The Effects of Student Coaching: An Evaluation of a Randomized Experiment in Student Mentoring,” Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis 36(1):3-19 (2014). Arizona State University believes that its Starfish e-advising system has been used successfully to track their dramatically increasing number of students, but formal published evaluations of this have not been released.

[14] “The CCRC study of 57 community colleges participating in the Achieving the Dream initiative found that only 33 percent of students in developmental math and 46 percent in developmental reading were able to complete the entire developmental sequence.” (T Bailey, DW Jeong & S-W Cho, “Referral Enrollment, and Completion in Developmental Education Sequences in Community Colleges,” Economics of Education Review 29 (2010) from http://ccrc.tc.columbia.edu/Community-College-FAQs.html). For a review of the development education literature, see here.

[15] Students can be tested early in middle school or high school so they understand where their shortfalls lie, and states can offer school-year or summer early remediation programs to enable these students to catch up.

[16] States should revisit the prerequisites involved in licensure for professions that are standing in the way and ask whether they are truly fundamental to the effective practice of a profession. (For example, how important is algebra for high-quality hairdressers?) Our country could develop different pathways for different professions, being mindful that we do not want to consign any students to a second-tier education.

[17] Many interesting experiments accelerate this remediation and weave it into college-credit classes. This has successfully been tried with the Statway/Quantway program sequences. Texas also has promising experiments with the New Mathways Project, even though this has not been evaluated via rigorous experiments. I-BEST eliminates stand-alone remediation and puts the remedial instructor in the real classroom; the program has been found to be effective but not through experimental studies.Tennessee colleges of applied technology also integrate remediation into for-credit courses. For a more general discussion of acceleration and compressions of developmental education see: http://ccrc.tc.columbia.edu/media/k2/attachments/accelerated-developmental-education.pdf. See also: EP Bettinger, A Boatman & BP Long, “Student Supports: Developmental Education and Other Academic Programs,” The Future of Children 23(1):93-115 (Spring 2013); BP Long, “Proposal 6: Addressing the Barriers to Higher Education,” in Policies to Address Poverty in America (Hamilton Project, 2014).

[19] The Pew Charitable Trusts, Collateral Costs: Incarceration’s Effect on Economic Mobility (Washington, DC: The Pew Charitable Trusts, 2010).

[20] J Travis, B Western, and S Redburn, eds., The Growth of Incarceration in the United States: Exploring Causes and Consequences (National Academies Press, 2014).

[21] It is worth noting that federal prisons have certain literacy standards for prisoners and these standards could be expanded to 12th grade for state and local prisons. N Robinson, “Higher Education in U.S. Prisons: A Cost-Effective Antipoverty Opportunity,” Spotlight on Poverty Commentary (2015).

[22] One reform effort, “Ban the Box,” aims to make it illegal for employers to have a check-box asking applicants about prior convictions that employers could use up front to screen out convicts. States could also revisit the many barriers that make it illegal for an employer to hire an offender in a range of sectors, which often do not make sense for non-violent or non-theft felony convictions. Enforcement of Equal Employment Opportunity laws on this is also important; it is simply illegal for employers to refuse to hire any felon without considering the needs of the job and actual history of the worker, but intent can be hard to show.

[23] Note: large-scale funding of such transitional programs might be expensive, but Social Impact Bonds might be a way to fund some of these programs where the state would pay only based on the success of these interventions in avoiding recividism among these programs. For greater depth see B Western, “From Prison to Work: A Proposal for a National Prisoner Reentry Program,” Hamilton Project Discussion Paper 2008-16 (2008). Note one successful work program at reintegrating prisoners is the Center for Employment Opportunities (operating in 4 states and successfully evaluated in New York City as lowering recidivism), where ex-inmates work in a transitional work, learn general job skills, and engage in life planning.

[24] Cognitive behavioral therapy trains ex-convicts or gang members to have a different mindset. Rather than seeing themselves as victims of society that need to take revenge or be violent to get respect, it teaches skills like anger management, interpersonal problem-solving, and dispute resolution. MW Lipsey, NA Landenberger & SJ Wilson,“Effects of Cognitive Behavioral Programs for Criminal Offenders, Campbell Systematic Reviews 2007:6 (2007).

[25] Western, “From Prison to Work,” 2008; J Travis et al., The Growth of Incarceration in the United States, 2014.

[26] American middle and high schools sometimes have a “bring your daughter (or son) to work” day, but these are haphazard and limit students’ exposure at best to their parents’ occupations. Our group recommends exposing middle and high school students systematically to the world of work through short-term visits to help shape future choices and help students understand how academic coursework prepares them for later careers. This is the norm in Germany, where students from the eighth grade typically spend two weeks shadowing adults in factories and offices. Students should get information about career opportunities and the educational pathways these careers require. Beyond exposing young people to the work world, institutions need to develop more robust social networks that will assist kids born to less-educated families, who are less likely to have personal contacts in professional careers. Intermediary institutions (either volunteer or school-run) can help pair kids from less-educated families with a mentor-shadow in their desired careers. This exposure at a younger age will help illuminate career pathways and help students in high school decide if they want to go to college or start career preparation in high school.

[27] One instantiation of this, not yet well-tested, and variable in terms of implementation from state-to-state, are individualized learning plans (ILPs) in middle school and high school. [This is different than the Individualized Educational Plans (IEPs) that students in special education utilize.] Thirty-eight states have begun using ILPs with 21 states mandating them for all. An ILP is a step towards ensuring that all students leave high school both career- and college-ready. The ILP should involve discussions and/or diagnostic tests to evaluate student strengths and career interests. Once student career interests are established, the ILP links courses and post-secondary plans to a student’s career goals and tracks the skills that a student has already developed towards being college- and career-ready. This ILP should also involve discussions of how extracurricular and out-of-school learning could further this skill development.

[28] For much more depth on what high-quality vocational education and CTE look like, see K Newman and H Winston, Upskilling America: Learning to Labor in the 21st Century (New York: Metropolitan Books, 2016).

[29] See Newman and Winston, Upskilling America, 2016.

[30] JJ Kemple, “Career Academies: Long-Term Impacts on Work, Education, and Transitions to Adulthood,” MDRC (2008).

[31] These 400 schools have considerable variation but all arose out of an innovation process, and all the schools provide closer student-faculty ties, stronger community partnerships, and rigorous academics.

[32] Note: there is a U.S. national office of registered apprenticeships that sets standards, provides grants, and encourages employer/education collaboration.

[33] South Carolina has attracted significant investment in new factories of German firms hungering for more skilled workers; some attribute this success to the value of apprenticeships, while others think it is the prevailing low-cost wage structure and right-to-work laws.

[34] For an example, see the Newport News (VA) Apprentice College described in ND Schwartz, “A New Look at Apprenticeships as a Path to the Middle Class,” New York Times (July 13, 2015).

[35] Our group recommends that any state’s economic-development strategy should consider how to enable multiple career pathways that develop students over the longer-term and lead to strong employment opportunities. This entails deep understanding of the current and future local labor market, and employer-needed skills. Youth from less-educated and less-affluent backgrounds often cannot afford to take several years off from employment to gain a degree. Their financial responsibilities, which unfold earlier in life than middle-class students, pit education against the need to earn a living, even when they powerfully desire higher education. As a result, low-income students’ education often unfolds piecemeal over the long-term. Since this is not likely to change, we must adapt so that multiple on- and off-ramps facilitate the ability of adults to accumulate educational credentials, and later on, retrain and retool when needed. Structured combinations of classroom and work-based learning, in coordination with employers, often are instrumental in achieving this goal. The pathway from Certified Nursing Assistant to Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) to Registered Nurse (RN) exemplifies this approach. At each stage, participants have marketable skills, and can decide later to train further. Germany, perhaps because of its much closer collaboration between labor and management, has developed a more robust system of credentialing across various industries. There are approximately 350 exam-based certificates in Germany that employers, trade unions, and educators agree qualify people to practice these trades. These certificates are acquired through a combination of vocational education and apprenticeship and clearly enumerate what skills job applicants possess. Students completing this apprentice training can later re-enter the German system of higher education if they desire a more advanced degree.

[36] Dual-enrollment programs should be distinguished from Advanced Placement (AP) or International Baccalaureate (IB) “college level” classes, for which students may not get credit and which are not on a college campus.

[37] Community College Research Center (CCRC), “What We Know About Dual Enrollment,” Teachers College, Columbia University (June 2012).

[38] CCRC, “What We Know About Dual Enrollment,”2012.

[39]Project Running Start, in New Hampshire, operates in almost every high school. While the student population varies significantly by community, many schools include students of low-income parents or parents that have not attended college. Dual-enrollment classes could also be used for second-chance programs discussed later (such as YouthBuild, Youth ChalleNGe program, etc.); the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation funded a demonstration trial, but more investment would be needed to spread it.

[40] During the 2005-2006 study period in a sample based on 10 early college high schools lotteries, the percentage of students who got an associate degree was 11 times as large (22 percent vs. 2 percent in the control group who did not win the admission lotteries). The impact on high school graduation and college enrollment was just as strong if not stronger for those participants who were non-white, had lower family incomes, were from first- generation college-going families or who had worse pre-high school achievement. For college degree attainment, the results were stronger for non-white students and low-income students, but they were also stronger for students with better middle school achievement levels. A Berger, L Turk-Bicakci et al., “Early College, Early Success: Early College High School Initiative Impact Study,” American Institute for Research (2013).

[41] L Horn & P Skomsvold, “Community College Student Outcomes: 1994–2009,” National Center for Education Statistics (2011); D Shapiro, A Dundar, et. al., “Baccalaureate Attainment: A National View of the Postsecondary Outcomes of Students Who Transfer from Two-Year to Four-Year Institutions (Signature Report No. 5),” National Student Clearinghouse Research Center (2013).

[42] Such articulation agreements that spell out clearly how credit transfers will work and between which institutions should be widely shared with students.

[43] Note: Massachusetts has also an innovative and easily accessed description of what community courses transfer to what institutions for what particular degrees.

[44] We recognize that disconnected youth (basically 16-30 year olds out-of-work, and not in the military or school) are a heterogeneous population that includes not only middle-income young people who temporarily leave college but also the deeply disconnected who began life in highly disadvantaged families. About 2.3 million fit this category. Although there are federal programs and non-profit programs that provide on-ramps for this latter group and have existed for decades, there has not been the public will to expand these options to meet the need and there have been fewer well-tested programs that meet cost-benefit thresholds. With limited economic options and widespread youth poverty, a disproportionate number end up in the nation’s prison and jail system, an outcome hugely expensive and permanently damaging to their employment prospects. There has been similar lack of political will to create and expand re-entry programs for those ex-convicts.

[45] Of course, the most powerful tonic would be a strong economy and a low true unemployment rate to incent employers to hire less-educated young people and pay them more. While the reported unemployment rate was recently 5.5 percent, the true unemployment rate is close to 11 percent, and 29 percent among high-school graduates not currently in school. On the relationship between a low unemployment rate and disconnected youth’s economic prospects, see for example, Richard Freeman’s 1982 article concluding that inadequate labor demand for young Americans was a prime factor in variation in youth unemployment across regions of the US. RB Freeman, “Economic Determinants of Geographic and Individual Variation in the Labor Market Position of Young Persons” in RB Freeman and DA Wise (eds.), The Youth Labor Market Problem: Its Nature, Causes, and Consequences, p. 115-154 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1982). On truer measures of unemployment, the officially reported Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) unemployment rate is “U-3”, but a truer measure of unemployment “U-6” includes discouraged workers, those marginally attached to the labor force (i.e., neither working nor looking for work but available for work and having worked in last 12 months) and involuntary part-timers (who ideally would like full-time work but had to settle for part-time employment). On measures of unemployment for high school graduates not in school, see Bureau of Labor Statistics, “College Enrollment and Work Activity of 2014 High School Graduates,” Bureau of Labor Statistics (April 16, 2015).

[46] Note: for all such programs, mentoring can be a key part of their magic. Principles of mentoring are discussed in the “community” chapter. Childcare should be provided to attract young adults with children back into education or the work force. Childcare provision strategies are discussed in the family and parenting chapter.

[47] Job Corps offers comprehensive job training for up to 2-years in residential centers (usually away from the participants’ homes) that combines education, training, counseling, health care, work experience, and job placement. Randomized results that have shown some positive results, but given the high cost of the program cost-benefit may depend on how long-lasting these effects are. See for example, RJ LaLonde, “Employment and Training Programs” in Means-Tested Transfer Programs in the United States (NBER Conference Volume, 2003).

[48] Gates funded effort that aims to get participants to graduate from high school (or get a GED) plus attend college. The program partners school districts and community colleges and can become a hook for getting other family involved. The early data is promising, and an RCT is planned.

[49] MDRC, “LaGuardia’s GED Bridge to Health and Business Program: Project Overview,” MDRC (n.d.). Another program that anecdotally sounds promising and takes a somewhat similar approach is Washington State’s I-BEST program. In a matched comparison sample, I-BEST graduates had “higher persistence rates, earned more credits toward a college credential, earned more occupational certificates, and showed greater improvements on tests.” The program is currently being reviewed in a more systematic basis by Abt Associates. See: T Brock, ““Evaluating Programs for Community College Students: How Do We Know What Works?” MDRC (Oct. 2010).

[50] As one example of an interesting linkage, the U.S. Department of Labor is currently working with Year Up to continue graduates’ training in an apprenticeship once they are employed.

[51] See C Clymer, M Conway et al., “Tuning in to Local Labor Markets,” Public/Private Ventures (2010).

[52] YouthBuild operates in over 250 low-income urban and rural communities, recruits highly disadvantaged low-income participants, 93 percent of whom left high school without a diploma, 30 percent of whom have been court involved, but all of whom are actively seeking a second chance.

[53] S Scrivener et al., “Doubling Graduation Rates,“ MDRC (2015).

[54] For example, see State Higher Education Executive Officers Association, “State Higher Educational Finance” SHEO Association (2014), Table 3 which shows that state and local funding for higher education appropriation dollars (in constant dollars) has increased from $64.4 billion in 1989 to $73.0 billion in 2014, but this has neither kept up with increases in educational costs or in higher educational enrollment as can be seen in Figure 2.

[55] ST Khadaroo, “Dramatic Cuts To College Tuition in Washington State: Will others follow?” CS Monitor (July 2, 2015).

[56] Tennessee (through TnAchieves) and Oregon have instituted free community colleges. Senators Tammy Baldwin and Corey Booker and Congressman Bobby Scott have introduced America’s College Promise to do this nationally. As one small example of covering non-tuition costs, ASAP gave free bus passes to high school students so that transportation costs don’t impede attendance. We should similarly provide bus and subway passes on a means-tested basis for community-college students for whom this is an obstacle. In addition, community colleges should supply students with more information on future educational costs so they are not blindsided by tuition-cost increases. See, for instance S Goldrick-Rab, Paying the Price (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2016).

[57] See RD Kahlenberg, “How Higher Education Funding Shortchanges Community Colleges,” The Century Foundation Blog (May 28, 2015).

[58] See for example, “Bridging the Higher Education Divide: Strengthening Community Colleges and Restoring the American Dream,” (Washington, DC: The Report of the Century Foundation Task Force on Preventing Community Colleges from Becoming Separate and Unequal, 2013), p.7.