IN THIS ISSUE
We as a nation have yet to meet all the conditions for prosperity in the years ahead. Nearly 1.2 million young Americans each year—almost one in three students—do not graduate from high school on time. Of those who do graduate, only 45 percent are actually prepared to succeed in college. The reality is even more dire among low-income youth. Meanwhile, amid record-breaking unemployment nationwide, severe skill shortages stymie entire industries and threaten regional competitiveness.
As the United States fights its way out of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, we must restore both our country’s physical infrastructure and its human capital. Indeed, the federal government has a once-in-a-generation opportunity to stimulate significant progress in addressing economic hardship in America by putting every individual on the path to college and a family-sustaining career. Although the challenge is great, progress is possible.
The United States must invest in expanding the supply of models that directly reduce poverty, writes JFF president and CEO Marlene B. Seltzer in a commentary for Spotlight on Poverty and Opportunity, a foundation-led, non-partisan initiative aimed at ensuring that political leaders take significant actions to reduce poverty and increase opportunity. It also must replicate and adapt what works on a scale that responds to the national need, using public policy to promote that expansion.
Seltzer cites a number of JFF partnerships that provide both models of practice and precedents for scaling up success. She concludes, “We must think about education and skill investments, in both our young people and adults, as a single pipeline, leading to individuals who can support their families and help communities thrive. Our nation’s livelihood depends on it.”
In October, in honor of Adult Education and Family Literacy Week, JFF announced that it will partner with five communities in a new project, Connecting Literacy and Work, supported by the Dollar General Literacy Foundation. JFF will provide technical assistance to and coordinate a peer learning community joining the Literacy Coalition of Southeastern Wisconsin in the Milwaukee region; the Workforce Solutions Collaborative in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Durham Technical Community College in North Carolina; Metropolitan Community College in Omaha, Nebraska; and the Mississippi Office of Nursing Workforce and Hinds Community College in Jackson, Mississippi.
Through the support of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, five community colleges are receiving $40,000 grants to scale up their Breaking Through programs. These programs help underserved and under-skilled young adults prepare for and succeed in occupational and technical degree programs. Breaking Through is a partnership of Jobs for the Future and the National Council for Workforce Education.
The colleges receiving scale-up grants are Durham Technical Community College (North Carolina), Lake Michigan Community College (Michigan), Owensboro Community & Technical College (Kentucky), Pamlico Community College (North Carolina), and Tacoma Community College (Washington).
Guiding Connecting Literacy and Work is Gloria Cross Mwase, whose life journey has taken her from Mississippi, where she earned a B.A. in economics from Tougaloo College, to Boston, where she earned a Ph.D. in public policy from the University of Massachusetts. On the way to JFF, she served the Annie E. Casey Foundation as its Boston representative and taught adults at Cambridge College, a unique environment where working adults can build their education in a lifetime of learning.
“I learned a lot about the importance of literacy growing up in rural Mississippi. My mother was a librarian and encouraged a strong focus on reading and academic excellence in my immediate family. Yet I saw the limitations on life and work opportunities for extended family, friends, and neighbors with low literacy levels,” says Gloria. “It inspired in me a desire to find solutions to the challenges they confront, which ultimately led to my focus on public policy. Teaching adults, include some college students with low reading and writing skills, further fueled this passion.”
Better Together, Gloria’s report for the Breaking Through initiative, explored how states can help working adults bolster their skills in order to take advantage of college credit-level programs. She also leads the capacity-building and peer-learning efforts of the National Fund for Workforce Solutions.
“I’m extremely grateful for the support of the Dollar General Literacy Foundation and excited about this new project,” says Gloria. “Our work at JFF has demonstrated that hard-working practitioners are developing effective solutions. One role we can play is helping to expand and scale up these innovations.”
Now available from JFF are four reports produced for the One Step Forward initiative under a Wal-Mart Foundation grant to the National Center on Education and the Economy. One Step Forward identified quality indicators for programs that help low-skilled workers acquire the basic skills they need to succeed and to enhance the competitiveness of U.S. employers. The reports were prepared by the NCEE Workforce Development Strategies Group, which recently joined with Jobs for the Future to form the Workforce and Education Policy Group within JFF.
JFF and other national organizations that are committed to improving educational outcomes for high school students are urging passage of the Graduation Promise Act. The act, supported by the Alliance for Excellent Education, the Center for American Progress Action Fund, National Council of La Raza, the Everyone Graduates Center, and JFF, is designed to improve high schools and reduce dropout rates. It reflects the recommendations in Addressing America’s Dropout Challenge, co-authored by JFF and the Center for American Progress.
Minorities and low-income young people continue to be less likely than their white and more affluent counterparts to enroll in college, even though degree attainment rates among minorities have improved. A Council of State Governments report documents the work of the Early College High School initiative to address that gap, focusing on three states that are leaders in this movement. Georgia, North Carolina, and Texas combine innovative public policy initiatives with public-private partnerships to create systems that encourage early college high schools and improve opportunities for young people who otherwise might not attend college.
Testifying before the House Committee on Education and Labor, Michael Webb, Associate Vice President at JFF, drew from the experience of the Early College High School Initiative, a national effort to significantly increase the number of underrepresented—like early college—students who attain a college degree. The topic was dual enrollment, arrangements that enable high school students to take college courses.
When Massachusetts released scores on state-mandated tests this fall, the results for University Park Campus School in Worcester were outstanding. Matching the achievements of wealthy, suburban schools, UPCS ranked #15 of 353 high schools in Massachusetts on the tenth-grade English test and #24 of 351 high schools on the tenth-grade math test. As a point of comparison, last year’s seventh graders ranked 294 of 466 middle schools on the English test after one year at UPCS; on the math test, they ranked 197 of 466.
These dramatic gains between the seventh and tenth grades are extraordinary, even more so given the community UPCS serves. Chosen by lottery, the vast majority of students enter this public school at least two grade levels behind in reading and math. Three-quarters of the students qualify for free lunch; two thirds come from homes where English is not spoken. JFF partners with the school and Clark University to train small school developers, leaders, and teachers to implement the strategies and techniques that have led to universal college readiness at UPCS.
The latest issue of Achieving Success, the state policy newsletter of Achieving the Dream, features a special Q&A: “What the Experts Have to Say about the Federal Community College Initiative.” Five community college experts comment on proposed federal legislation. Also in this issue is an update on the Developmental Education Initiative, an ambitious, three-year effort to help states and institutions dramatically improve student success in developmental education. Achieving Success is published by JFF for Achieving the Dream: Community Colleges Count, a national initiative to help more community college students succeed.
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Jobs for the Future identifies, develops, and promotes new education and workforce strategies that help communities, states, and the nation compete in a global economy. In over 200 communities in 41 states, JFF improves the pathways leading from high school to college to family-sustaining careers.