Forbes Magazine, July 28, 2022 – click to view the original article
For more than 40 years, the national non-profit Jobs for America’s Graduates (JAG), has been working to prevent school dropouts and help America’s most vulnerable young people succeed in post-secondary education and secure good jobs. It’s become the nation’s premier education and job preparation/placement program for challenged adolescents – helping more than 1.6 million young people over its four decades of operation. (Full disclosure: For several years I served on the Board of Directors for JAG-Missouri.)
Like all schools and educational programs, JAG faced a major crisis when, during the worst of the pandemic in 2020-2021, absenteeism, school dropout and learning loss reached record levels across the nation.
Students and schools are still struggling to recover from those setbacks, with one estimate suggesting that during the 2020-2021 school year, growth in student achievement – as measured by test scores – slowed to the point that even at low-poverty schools that had to rely on remote instruction, students lost the equivalent of 13 weeks of in-person instruction. At high-poverty schools remaining remote, student achievement showed a loss of about 22 weeks – equal to more than half a school year.
So in this very difficult environment, one important question became how would JAG, which now operates in nearly 1,400 locations in 39 states, perform. Would its students, who already face multiple obstacles and vulnerabilities, suffer severe educational losses? Would their dropout rates soar? Would they become a lost generation?
In fact, just the opposite happened. Based on recently released data, the results for the JAG Class of 2021 are among some of the best in the program’s 41-year history. Consider these results:
- The graduation rate for JAG’s Class of 2021 was 96%, compared to a national graduation rate for the same period of about 84%.
- JAG graduates had an unemployment rate of 6.25%, about 40% lower than the 10.4% rate for all 18–19-year-olds.
- JAG improved the percentage of its graduates going on to some form of post-secondary education, jumping from 40.5% for the Class of 2020 to 46.6% for the Class of 2021. By contrast, post-secondary enrollments by high school graduates actually decreased nationally.
- Of the 2021 JAG graduates, 78% had what is termed a “positive outcome,” meaning that they either were 1) employed full time, 2) employed full time and attending a post-secondary institution or 3) employed part-time and enrolled full-time in a post-secondary institution. That’s a two percentage point increase over the prior year, when the pandemic was just beginning.
- For youth of color, the success rates of JAG students were dramatically higher than those of their non‑JAG counterparts in the same categories of 18–19‑year‑olds.
How It Works
While the JAG model can be applied in middle-school, out-of-school, or alternative schools, the most common format is with high-school students who’ve been identified by school officials to be facing substantial barriers to graduation, usually some combination of poverty, family instability, and personal trauma.
Each program is run by a specialist, typically a full-time teacher at the school. The standard program includes these elements:
- A cohort of 35-45 participants takes a for-credit class that trains them in 37 employability skills involving career development, job attainment, job survival, basic skills, leadership, self-development and personal skills.
- Project Based Learning is emphasized, giving students realistic learning experiences that help prepare them for the modern workplace.
- A student-led JAG Club, called the Career Association, forms students into teams that complete tasks often encountered in today’s and tomorrow’s jobs.
- The specialist provides counseling, mentoring, and personal support to participants. For many JAG students, this is the first positive relationship they’ve had with an adult.
- Students are provided enrichment experiences like a national conference in Washington, D.C. or a statewide career development conference.
- Specialists follow students for at least 12 months after graduation, helping with employment and job searches and/or navigating postsecondary educational opportunities. They also track students’ educational and career progress on a monthly basis during the follow-up year.
- For students who might not have yet graduated, the specialist continues to help them complete remaining requirements.
Why It Works
JAG is effective for several reasons. but here are six elements that have guided its work from its inception and help account for its continuing success.
Fourteen Governors – both Republicans and Democrats – serve on JAG’s National Board of Directors (more Governors than on any other board in the country). Serving with them are a dozen C-suite executives of the Fortune 500 and national community, organizational, and educational leaders.
Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards (D), Chair of the JAG National Board of Directors, said this about JAG’s most recent numbers “…some of the best results in the 41-year history of the organization – and most impressively, they were accomplished in one of the most difficult school years the nation has ever faced…In Louisiana, we are further expanding the program in light of these results. JAG-Louisiana is in 165 schools now. This program has positively affected our state’s overall graduation rates and has helped young Louisianans take advantage of some of the extraordinary opportunities for great jobs and careers that are now available in Louisiana. We need every one of our young people to join our economy.”
JAG’s Vice Chair, Republican Governor Kim Reynolds of Iowa, added, “Over the last two years, JAG has delivered when it was needed most. In light of its extraordinary success, the program in Iowa is expanding dramatically from its current 100 locations to 150 schools in the coming year, and we plan to grow by 300-350 more in the years ahead. With results like these in Iowa and across the country, it’s clear why this organization has enjoyed such strong bipartisan support for all of its four decades.”
Multiple Sources of Funding
JAG uses several, braided sources of funding to support its program. Federal money, private support, state appropriations and school district funds have been combined in various ways, allowing states and local schools to fund a coherent, consistent model of educational recovery focused on youth in jeopardy.
Partnerships With Employers
The high employment rate for JAG students is due in large measure to the confidence that the 19,000 employers who work with JAG have in how students are prepared for the job market. Mastery of the 37 Employability Skills enables students to meet or exceed the requirements that employers have told JAG are most crucial.
Employers interact with JAG students in the classroom and on the job. Now more than ever, these employers are willing to be aggressive in creating employment opportunities and accelerated career pathways to high-quality jobs.
JAG’s Specialists are key to the program’s impact. They’re the local, on-the-ground teachers, coaches and mentors who are dedicated to helping students succeed. For many students, the Specialist becomes the first trusted adult they’ve had in their lives, serving as a source of motivation, inspiration and guidance.
Students Are Regarded As Talented, Resilient Individuals
The youth served by JAG are treated as talented and resilient individuals, who are determined to succeed. What they need are guidance, resources and support to become excellent students, workers and citizens. JAG believes students need to be responsible for their own success.
Well-Defined Metrics Of Success
JAG has maintained a robust accountability system that annually tracks information about students served, services delivered, and outcomes achieved. These data are used to establish and refine best practices in the program.
JAG officials described the latest results as “remarkable,” especially because they were achieved during what many observers believe was one of the most difficult school years in the history of American public education.
Ken Smith, President of Jobs For America’s Graduates, noted, “The overriding conclusions we have drawn from the results of this past year’s graduating class and JAG’s 40 years of experience…is that we do know what to do to help youth in need to succeed. It can be done – and JAG has proven over four decades that it can be done consistently, at scale and over time. The second conclusion is that the young people in our country are clearly youth of great promise, if they receive the help they need to succeed. Now we need to ensure that all of the young people have the opportunity to unlock their promise. In short, we need to take what works and do far, far more of it, at real scale, during this time of extraordinary impacts from the pandemic.”
Reflecting those comments, JAG’s National Board has adopted an aggressive new strategy – Youth Opportunities and Outcomes 2024 –with thegoal of doubling the number of students served to 150,000 nationally as well as adding services to enhance the credentials students receive so that they’re ready to secure good jobs upon exiting the program. As part of this plan, JAG is aiming to add 200 new schools/cohorts in the upcoming school year.