Students of color who participate in the evidence-based Jobs for America’s Graduates (JAG) program are bucking national trends in graduation rate, achievement gap, and employment.

More than half of the 76,000 students served by JAG identify as African American, Hispanic, Native American, Asian, Pacific Islander, or mixed ethnicity. Data shows the COVID-19 pandemic disproportionately affects communities of color, both from a health standpoint as well as an economic one. Fortunately, data also indicates that JAG is especially effective at helping students of color earn their diplomas and get career-ready.

Numbers released in May 2020 by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) show that the class of 2018 had a nationwide graduation average of 85%. African-American students, however, graduated at just 79% nationwide, while Hispanic students graduated at 81%.

But students of color who participated in JAG programs across the nation defied that trend and demonstrated no achievement gap.

Seniors in JAG programs in 2018 had a nationwide graduation average of 96.00%, a full 11% better than the national average. And African-Americans who participated in JAG graduated at 95.42%, nearly identical to the percentage of all JAG students. Hispanics were 94.37%.

It was no fluke that JAG participants graduated at such a high rate in 2018. The graduation numbers for 2019 were almost identical. In 2019, JAG students graduated at a 95.72% rate, which African-Americans nearly mirrored at 95.60. Hispanics were 94.74%.

JAG graduation rates for the class of 2020 in Kansas were impressive despite the effect of COVID-19. The overall graduation rate for JAG-K students was 95.52%. African-Americans who participated in JAG-K graduated at 95.77% rate this year, while Hispanic JAG-K students were 95.02%.

“This data shows JAG has succeeded in delivering its program with equity and is a leader in closing the achievement gap,” said JAG-K President/CEO Chuck Knapp. “The organization is committed to helping all students graduate with the skills necessary to achieve. The effectiveness of JAG at helping students, regardless of color, is confirmed by the data.”

The JAG program helps students not only to receive their diplomas, but also to learn about career paths, develop the skills to succeed in the workplace, and gain meaningful employment while still in high school. Once they graduate, JAG supports its graduates for another year to help them successfully transition to post-secondary work and educational opportunities.

COVID-19 has created a difficult job market, particularly for people of color. But JAG students are beating the odds in the area of employment.

The Bureau of Labor Market Statistics recently reported that the national unemployment rate among African-Americans is 34.9% But for 18 and 19 year old African-Americans who recently graduated JAG programs, that rate is just 11.46%

Similarly, the national unemployment rate among Hispanics is 17.38%. For 18 and 19 year old Hispanics who were in JAG, the rate is 11.22%.

“JAG was founded to address these inequalities, and for four decades, JAG and JAG Specialists continue to be a decisive difference in helping our students so they succeed in high school, higher education, jobs and life,” a report from the national organization said recently.

JAG-K is a multi-year, in-school program for students in grades seven through 12 that offers tools to successfully transition students into post-secondary school, the military, or directly into the workforce with marketable skills. Participants in the program face multiple barriers to success that their JAG-K Career Specialist helps them overcome through a nationally-accredited, evidence-based model. The most recent data shows JAG-K students have a 98 percent graduation rate.

The 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization is a state affiliate of the national JAG program network which operates in 35 different states and territories. It is primarily funded through the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families block grant to the State of Kansas administered by the Kansas Department for Children and Families (DCF). In addition to school districts and DCF, JAG-K partners with the Kansas Department of Education. Other JAG-K funding sources include AT&T, Capitol Federal, John Deere, Synchrony Financial and Taco Bell.

To learn more about JAG-K, visit www.jagkansas.org, ‘Jobs for America’s Graduates-Kansas’ on Facebook, and on Twitter at @JAG_Kansas.