March 1, 2010
In December 2007, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation gave MDRC a grant to conduct reconnaissance on promising strategies to reengage disconnected young people and improve their long-term outcomes. The primary objective of the grant was to identify key leverage points for future investment by government and foundations. MDRC consulted with researchers and policy experts, reviewed the results of completed and ongoing evaluations of youth programs, visited a number of innovative youth programs and cities with strong youth strategies, and hosted a meeting of youth practitioners. The goal of the paper's recommendations is to develop a menu of approaches for the heterogeneous population of disconnected youth--analogous in some ways to the multiple pathways that are being developed for high school students. The recommendations fall into two broad categories: building knowledge about mature, existing programs (to better understand whether they work, for whom, and why) and investment in developing and/or scaling up new programs that address areas of unmet need, such as efforts to restructure General Educational Development (GED) preparation programs so that they are more tightly linked with postsecondary programs, both occupational and academic; new "leg-up" strategies for older youth with very low basic skill levels, for whom a GED may not be a realistic goal; and new strategies to engage young people who are more profoundly disconnected and unlikely to volunteer for youth programs.