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The Reconnecting Youth compendium of programs provides an overview of 78 programs and the practices they employ to support young people who experience disconnection from school and work during their transition to adulthood. It focuses specifically on services to help young people reconnect to education, obtain employment, and advance in the labor market. This population of young people are often referred to as “opportunity youth.” 

The study team from MDRC and Child Trends conducted an expansive search to identify programs that met the scope of the compendium and fielded a qualitative questionnaire to all programs that met the scope. The 78 programs in the compendium together were projected to serve nearly 100,000 young people in 2021. This page provides high-level findings from the questionnaire and connects these results to findings from the evidence gap map. A full report, including more details about the methodology used, can be accessed at the button to the right or at the bottom of the page. The findings offer insights into what services and implementation practices are more common or less common, the use of innovative practices, and the breadth of activities programs undertake in support of young people.

Key Findings

  • Program Characteristics: Programs in the compendium reflect diverse geographies, years of experience, and annual number of participants served. The programs are mostly nonprofits operated by community-based organizations and most received public funding, indicating that they have established infrastructure to apply for and qualify for such grants.
  • Population served: Most reported serving primarily young people. Programs were long in duration and intensity, indicating a high intended dosage of services throughout an extended engagement.
  • Outcomes targeted: The majority of programs reported targeting both education and employment outcomes, indicating that they focus on a range of outcomes rather than specializing in one area. For education, they focus mostly on basic skills gains, high school completion, or postsecondary enrollment. For employment, they target mostly shorter term outcomes (e.g., placement and readiness) rather than longer term outcomes (e.g., retention and earnings).
  • Education and employment services: Most programs provided both secondary and postsecondary education services indicating that programs may have a main service, but meet young people where they are at and provide the education services they need. Most programs reported having both work readiness services to prepare young people for the labor market and job placement supports to give young people skills to gain a foothold in the labor market and access to quality jobs.
  • Program implementation practices: A high percentage of programs provide support services, suggesting that programs provide comprehensive supports for young people to help them overcome barriers to entering education or employment. All programs reported using at least one youth development practice in their delivery of services. Programs also often employed practices required of WIOA funding and had community partnerships or collaborations. Almost all programs used at least one racial equity practice, such as having a racial equity framework and representation of participant demographics in program leadership and staff.
  • Data and evaluation: Nearly all programs reported collecting data about participation, employment outcomes, and education outcomes. A minority had been part of a formal study or evaluation.

Overall, the analysis of the compendium leads to several conclusions and potential next steps for research: 

  • Some of the practices that were common in the compendium have a large body of research behind them. These include practices such as preparation or instruction for high school equivalency, work readiness training, and supports for basic needs. Practitioners, policymakers and researchers can use this information to learn how best to build strong programs for young people. 
  • However, other common practices in the compendium have limited supporting evidence with this population, suggesting priority areas for further research. These include practices such as employer engagement and career pathways approaches. 
  • Some innovative practices were not common in the compendium or the evidence gap map but have been found to be effective serving other populations and may benefit opportunity youth. These practices include two-generation models, entrepreneurship training, and dual enrollment. The same can be said of expanding service providers to include more community colleges and employers, which were not common in the compendium.
  • More longitudinal research can help understand how to support young people who are reconnecting as they advance along education and career pathways. Currently, most youth-serving programs target relatively short-term outcomes.