Workforce readiness for high school seniors: Washington, D.C.

Results and accomplishments

80%

Urban Alliance participants connected to college, employment, or a career training program one year after participating

23%

Increased likelihood of male Urban Alliance participants attending college

18%

Increased likelihood of Urban Alliance participants with GPAs between 2.0 and 3.0 attending college


  • Scaling up and out to serve more students: Urban Alliance has grown within and beyond Washington, D.C., now providing internships to around 250 under-resourced youth per year across the metropolitan region. The program offers internships to over 150 students per year in the District; around 80 students per year in Alexandria, Arlington, and Fairfax Counties in Virginia; and around 40 students per year in Montgomery and Prince George’s County in Maryland.
  • Reaching students earlier in high school: In recent years, Urban Alliance has begun providing robust workforce readiness programming to students before their senior year. This programming now serves over 500 additional students in Washington, D.C., Virginia, and southern Maryland per year.
  • Bringing partners together: In every county and school district it operates in, the program has helped galvanize networks of public sector leaders, schools, businesses, non-profits, and philanthropies focused on preventing youth disconnection and improving outcomes for youth following high school graduation.
  • Offering paid internships: Program participants are paid, earning approximately $7,000-8,000 over the course of their internship. Eighty percent of students use at least a portion of their income to help cover household expenses.

Overview

Summary

  • The Washington, DC region has long experienced high rates of youth disconnection and low levels of youth employment. As the cost of living in Washington rose through the early 2010s, many low-income families were displaced into the surrounding suburbs in Maryland and Virginia. Many of these suburban school districts did not have the resources or programming to meet the needs of this growing contingent of lower-income students.

  • To address the problem, Urban Alliance expanded from Washington, DC to northern Virginia in 2013 and then to southern Maryland in 2017. Urban Alliance’s flagship program provides high school seniors with an intensive work readiness and skills development curriculum; a paid, 9-month internship; and one-on-one coaching and mentoring. Recently, it has begun offering in-school workforce readiness training to students before their senior year.

  • Keys to the program’s success included support from large employers, who have offered internships and encouraged other businesses to do the same; senior public sector champions, like mayors and county executives, who have convened key leaders as Urban Alliance expanded; support from school leaders in recruiting students and managing logistics; and careful data collection and program evaluation, which has strengthened support for the program over time.

What was the challenge?

  • D.C. youth face high levels of disconnection: Washington, D.C. has long experienced high rates of youth disconnection and low levels of youth employment. Youth disconnection is particularly pervasive in neighborhoods east of the Anacostia River, which have suffered from decades of disinvestment and neglect. In 2013, 33 percent of young people aged 16-24 in D.C.’s Southeast quadrant were out of school and unemployed.
  • Low-income families displaced to suburbs: Over the past two decades, the cost of living in Washington, D.C. has risen dramatically, pushing many low-income families into the surrounding suburbs of Maryland and Virginia. This displacement has fueled the growth of hidden pockets of poverty in relatively wealthy areas. In several school districts across the region, over half of students now qualify for free or reduced-price meals.
  • Suburban schools lack services: Many of these suburban schools did not have resources or programming focused on the needs of lower-income students and lacked services that helped under-resourced students develop post-graduation plans.

What was the solution?

  • Focusing on youth employment: Over the past several years, civic leaders across the Washington, D.C. metropolitan region have collectively recognized the growing need for programs that help lower-income students gain early exposure to the labor market, create positive employment trajectories after high school, and prevent youth disconnection.
  • Preparing high school seniors for the workforce: Urban Alliance was founded in Washington, D.C. in 1996. Its flagship program provides high school seniors with an intensive work readiness and skills development curriculum, a paid, 9-month internship in a professional setting, and one-on-one coaching and mentoring from program staff and internship mentors.
  • Expanding to D.C. suburbs: After a successful expansion to Baltimore in 2008, Urban Alliance began expanding throughout the Washington, D.C. region. The program’s Northern Virginia replication launched in 2013, and its southern Maryland operations began in 2017.
  • Serving younger high schoolers: In recent years, Urban Alliance has expanded programming to provide more rigorous workforce readiness training to students before their senior year of high school.

What factors drove success?

  • Support from employers: Several large employers have supported many interns per year and have been vocal champions in encouraging other businesses across the region to host interns of their own.
  • Public and nonprofit leaders as conveners: Public and civic sector champions are critical conveners for the sorts of partnerships with schools and businesses that Urban Alliance relies on. In many instances across the region, Mayors and County Executives have helped bring school leadership, local non-profits, and local employers to the table.
  • Partnerships with schools: Support from school leadership is critical for recruiting students, managing the logistics of getting students to their internships, and enabling work readiness programming for non-seniors.
  • An ability to demonstrate results: Meticulous data collection and a successful randomized controlled trial (completed by the Urban Institute in 2017) helped attract significant funding from the public sector and philanthropy, fueling the Urban Alliance’s growth across the region and beyond.

Timeline

Implementation process

How did leaders confront the problem?

  • Identifying a changing problem: Growing evidence across the Washington, D.C. metropolitan region demonstrates high rates of youth disconnection and low rates of youth employment. As cost of living in Washington, D.C. increases, it pushes many lower-income families into surrounding suburbs. Suburban school districts are underequipped to serve increasing numbers of low-income students.
  • Building support for a solution: Public, private, and civic sector champions in Northern Virginia and Maryland convene networks of school leaders, employers, local non-profits, and philanthropy to lay groundwork for Urban Alliance’s operations.
  • Selecting a program with a track record of success: Urban Alliance had developed a strong track record of success in Washington, D.C since mid-1990s. With support from Venture Philanthropy Partners and the Greater Washington Community Foundation, Urban Alliance begins conversations with civic leaders in Northern Virginia and Maryland to assess feasibility of expansion.

How was the strategy designed?

  • Connecting students to internships: Since its founding in 1996, Urban Alliance’s core service has been connecting students to paid, 9-month internships with local employers. Students work approximately 12 hours per week during the school year and close to full time during the summer. 
  • Providing mentoring and support: Students are supported by a one-on-one mentor at their workplace and by Urban Alliance staff on an ongoing basis. Students are provided a variety of professional and personal supports.
  • Preparing students to succeed: Each participant receives six weeks of pre-employment skills training before starting their internship. Once participants have started their internship, one day per week is spent in workshops focused on post-high school planning, college and career application assistance, and life skills development.

How was the approach funded?

  • Strong support from employers: While the bulk of Urban Alliance’s funding comes from employer partners’ direct support of interns, the program seeks philanthropic and public sector support for its launch in both North Virginia and Maryland. This allows the organization to build its base of employer partners while still serving cohorts of 30 students in its first year.
  • Public and philanthropic dollars fund expansion: Initial expansion funding comes from a $1.7 million grant from Venture Philanthropy Partners over five years. Program operations in Northern Virginia are also supported by local CDBG dollars via the Alexandria Fund for Human Services. In Montgomery County, Urban Alliance receive $187,500 of public funding via the Greater Washington Community Foundation’s Children’s Opportunity Fund.

How was the plan implemented?

  • Securing funding, identifying partners, and handling logistics: For both Northern Virginia and Maryland, once funding is secured and a critical mass of employer partners confirmed, Urban Alliance begins logistical work with school districts, creating plans for early release for participants, finding spaces that could be used for skills training workshops, arranging transportation from schools to internships, etc.
  • Extensive recruitment efforts: Recruitment occurs largely at schools through information sessions, classroom visits, and partnerships with teachers and guidance counselors, who serve as major referral sources.
  • Government leaders increase visibility: Program visibility among employers increases through a series of high-profile events with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, MD Congressman Jamie Raskin, Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich, then-Vice President Joe Biden, and Virginia State Sen. Adam Ebbin.

How was the approach measured and refined?

  • Using independent evaluation: In 2011, Urban Alliance partners with the Urban Institute to conduct a multi-year evaluation of the high school internship program in Washington, D.C. and Baltimore, MD. The findings are published in 2017 and demonstrate the positive effects the program has on college enrollment and workforce readiness skills. A second randomized controlled trial is currently underway to deepen the organization’s learnings.
  • Removing a barrier to expansion: In 2016, recognizing the major barrier to serving more youth is the number of employers willing to sponsor student interns, Urban Alliance begins offering workforce readiness training to thirty 11th graders per year in Fairfax County. In 2018, this more robust workforce readiness programming expands to serve 150-300 9th-11th graders in southeast Washington per year via a partnership with Martha’s Table, a local anti-poverty non-profit.
  • Integrating into a school district: In Prince George's County, Maryland, the pre-senior year workforce training curriculum is delivered in-school to career and technical education students. Urban Alliance also supplements school efforts to find work placements for these students.
Acknowledgments

Results for America would like to thank the following individuals for their help in completing this case study: Eshauna Smith, Emily Rogers, and Julie Farkas of Urban Alliance; and Alessandra Hashemi.