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Workforce strategies to improve high school graduation rates

Workforce strategies designed for young people can teach job-relevant skills, build youth confidence, and provide valuable exposure to professional environments.

Individuals with a high school diploma (or its equivalent) are more likely to complete post-secondary education or training, obtain high-quality employment, and create stable household environments for their children.

How does high school graduation affect economic mobility?

Graduating from high school decreases the likelihood of living in poverty. 1
Individuals who do not graduate from high school are significantly more likely to live in poverty, suffer from unemployment, experience poor health outcomes, and be incarcerated than individuals with a high school diploma.
Individuals with a high school diploma earn more than individuals without a high school diploma. 2 3

Individuals with a high school degree but no post-secondary education earn approximately $8,000 more per year than individuals without a high school diploma, adding up to $260,000 more in lifetime earnings.

Individuals who receive a GED tend to earn less than individuals with a high school diploma but more than individuals without a high school diploma or GED.

A high school diploma is correlated with higher levels of well-being. 4

Individuals without a high school diploma are more likely to suffer from chronic disease, have unplanned pregnancies, and abuse alcohol or other substances compared to individuals who have graduated from high school.

High school graduates are less likely to be incarcerated than individuals without a high school diploma. 5 6

Individuals without a high school diploma make up more than 80 percent of the incarcerated population of the United States. The average cost of incarceration is over $33,000 per inmate per year.

Categories of successful interventions

  • Career and technical education: School-based programs that teach high school students job-ready skills for specific occupations. Some programs offer courses in a deliberate skill-building sequence, and many include work-based experiences, social supports, and job placement assistance
  • Dual enrollment/early college programs: Programs that allow students to enroll in college-level courses and earn college credits while still in high school
  • Summer jobs: Short-term, paid employment for teenagers and young adults. Generally funded by local governments and executed through partnerships with community-based organizations and local businesses

Evidence-based interventions

Intervention Type Category Evidence Level
Boston Summer Youth Employment Program Program
  • Summer jobs
Promising (Third-highest tier)
Career Academies Program
  • Career and technical education
Proven (highest tier)
Chicago One Summer Program
  • Summer jobs
Promising (Third-highest tier)
NYC Summer Youth Employment Program Program
  • Summer jobs
Promising (Third-highest tier)
Rapid Employment and Development Initiative (READI) Program
  • Mentoring, counseling, and case management
  • Restorative justice programs
  • Transitional jobs
  • Work readiness training
Promising (Third-highest tier)
Roca Program
  • Mentoring, counseling, and case management
  • Restorative justice programs
  • Transitional jobs
  • Work readiness training
Promising (Third-highest tier)
Urban Alliance Program
  • Internships and apprenticeships
  • Work readiness training
Strong (second-highest tier)
Youth Villages Lifeset Program
  • Mentoring, counseling, and case management
Promising (Third-highest tier)
YouthBuild Program
  • Ged/hsed programs
  • Sector-based skills training
  • Work readiness training
Promising (Third-highest tier)
Footnotes
  1. Bloom and Haskins, "Helping High School Dropouts Improve Their Prospects," Brookings Institution 2010
    https://www.brookings.edu/research/helping-high-school-dropouts-improve-their-prospects/
  2. America's Promise Alliance, "High School Graduation Facts: Ending the Dropout Crisis" 2018
    https://www.americaspromise.org/high-school-graduation-facts-ending-dropout-crisis
  3. Ewert, "GED Recipients Have Lower Earnings, are Less Likely to Enter College," US Census Bureau 2012
    https://www.census.gov/newsroom/blogs/random-samplings/2012/02/ged-recipients-have-lower-earnings-are-less-likely-to-enter-college.html
  4. American Public Health Association, "The Dropout Crisis: A Public Health Problem and the Role of School-Based Health Care," 2018
    https://www.apha.org/-/media/files/pdf/sbhc/dropout_crisis.ashx?la=en&hash=45980EEE0E7AD5063B04AC8183C2B463AD3031BE
  5. Romero, "The Dropout Dilemma," Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond 2014
    https://www.richmondfed.org/publications/research/econ_focus/2014/q3/feature1
  6. Vera Institute, "The Price of Prisons," 2015
    https://www.vera.org/publications/price-of-prisons-2015-state-spending-trends/price-of-prisons-2015-state-spending-trends/price-of-prisons-2015-state-spending-trends-prison-spending