Many cities and localities have mounted targeted efforts to promote education and career pathways for “opportunity youth.” Engaging these young people—ages 16 to 24, who are not in school and not meaningfully employed—is critical to creating equitable pathways to opportunity, especially with an increasing number of people characterized as opportunity youth because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Promising strategies have emerged to help them, and we find these programs can be especially successful when they alleviate barriers for Black, Latinx, and Indigenous students to complete secondary education and smooth the transition to college. But structural racism and other inequities can limit the effectiveness of these education interventions for opportunity youth, who are disproportionately young Black, Latinx, and Indigenous people.

The Urban Institute evaluated JFF’s Back on Track model in seven cities and found the programs had significant impacts on the postsecondary enrollment opportunity youth by creating clear pathways and providing supports for common issues such as academic readiness, navigating postsecondary and career options, college affordability, transportation, and child care. But the program’s leaders also highlighted rental housing availability and affordability as major challenges that must be addressed to ensure even more opportunity youth, who have few familial supports and are disproportionately housing insecure, move forward in their education

Programs rarely have the leverage or resources to remediate the negative effects of housing availability and segregation on participants, as these challenges are policy issues. Opportunity Works program staff relied on referrals to public agencies or other community organizations for housing resources and other stabilizing assistance, but many found these community resources were insufficient and that the programs lacked funding to provide needed services directly.

Program interventions can make an important difference in young people’s lives, but if they are not coordinated with policy and systemic interventions that explicitly address the effects of racism, they might not be enough to help young people reach their full potential.

Read the full article about program interventions and policy by Theresa Anderson at Urban Institute.