Centering Young People’s Voices, Experiences, and Life Goals

Statistics can sometimes be really unsettling. At this point in our collective experiences with a two-years-and-counting pandemic, we’re increasingly grappling with scary numbers and stories about the state of young people’s mental health and recent declines in college enrollment. It would be understandable if we were feeling less than hopeful about the future of young people–because their future is our future too, of course. 

However, numbers can also offer hope. Despite the incredible challenges they are navigating, organizations and programs designed to help young people succeed in education and in work succeed in doing just that–and many have the numbers to prove it. And no matter how good or bad the numbers can feel on any given day, it is always possible to look beyond the numbers and get re-energized by the stories and experiences of young people who are planning for their future careers and lives. 

Equitable Futures, a project supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, was founded on this premise–that young people’s lived experiences and voices matter and should be centered in efforts to support them as they navigate a wide array of pathways to achieve their life goals. 

In fact, we created and highlighted tools and resources to help adults who support young people to do just that–like the Designing Pathways With Youth Toolkit, which contains an assessment tool for organizations supporting young people to check how they’re doing in centering young people in their programs and practices. Through the Equitable Futures website, and through this newsletter, our goal is to connect with the incredibly large, diverse, and caring community of adults who support Black and Latino young people, and young people from low-income backgrounds, to succeed in education, in work, and in life, and share what it looks like and feels like to center young people’s perspectives and experiences. For example, we are excited to share an incredibly creative example of that approach come to life – the Power On! graphic novel, a book created by four young people who wanted to share their stories of how technology has impacted their respective communities, which has just been published by MIT Press. You can find the book here, and read more about the story on the Equitable Futures website here.

Also in this month’s Wayfinders:

  • Evaluation results are in for a program that helps young people from low-income households get into college and stay there–and they’re looking good;
  • A brief recap of the Equitable Futures webinar on the social capital messaging guide–where we heard from two organizations that field-tested the guide, which has now been updated to capture their experiences and insights; and
  • Young people are showing up and sharing what they really think as they plan their futures, including at a recent sold-out conference entirely dedicated to the future of learning, work, and how to create more equitable futures for all.

Supporting Young People on Their Path to College

While college is not the only pathway for young people, research shows that a college degree or credential can make a significant difference for many young people when it comes to higher income potential and economic stability. 

OneGoal, a national program that targets the barriers faced by students from low-income backgrounds to support their achievement of postsecondary goals, recently partnered with University of Chicago’s Inclusive Economy Lab and Chicago Public Schools (CPS) to evaluate how OneGoal’s three-year program model impacted college success outcomes. 

OneGoal works with schools that have a high population of students from low-income households to create cohorts of 25-30 students (“Fellows”) who spend one class period in 11th and 12th grades preparing for college. After graduating from high school, One Goal Fellows continue to receive the support of their assigned teachers and their cohorts as they transition into college and complete their first year of postsecondary study.

The evaluation looked at more than 7,000 OneGoal Fellows who graduated from the program between 2011-2020. Instead of using a randomized control group, the evaluation methodology identified similarly-situated students who had not participated in the One Goal program to compare outcomes. Overall, the evaluation found that OneGoal’s programming has a strong and positive effect on students–who achieved better outcomes with respect to enrolling in postsecondary schools, staying in schools, and completing their education. Overall, OneGoal Fellows were:

  • 46% more likely to enroll in college than their Chicago Public School peers from similar backgrounds
  • 47% more likely to persist in college than their CPS peers from similar backgrounds 
  • 40% More likely to graduate from college than their CPS peers from similar backgrounds

Learn more about OneGoal and read their full impact report here.

Updated and field-tested: A Guide for Talking about Social Capital

The opportunity to build social capital – meaningful professional relationships that can offer support, connections, and advice – can be a transformational in helping students reach their education and career goals. However, part of emphasizing social capital in programming and policies to support young people’s career pathways is learning how to communicate the concept effectively–what it means, and what language works to engage audiences in recognizing the importance of social capital for young people. (Spoiler alert: the term “social capital” doesn’t work for most audiences.)

In 2021, Equitable Futures released a messaging guide to help adults supporting young people learn how to communicate about social capital as part of their work to help young people build social capital. Recently, Equitable Futures released an updated version of the guide that is now informed by the field-testing experiences of four nonprofit organizations working to support young people in their education and career goals.  

The organizations implemented and tested messaging recommendations from the original guide to communicate about and embed social capital into youth-serving programs and interventions. The nine messaging recommendations range from simple tips (e.g. drop the jargon) to strategies to connect to audiences emotionally (e.g. prioritize storytelling). During a webinar on April 5, two leaders from the organizations Advance CTE and Climb Hire spoke about their experiences testing the messaging guide, including how the messages worked during different phases of their respective processes and what messages worked better with their target audiences than others. You can hear more about their experiences testing the messaging guide and what they learned by listening to the webinar recording, here, and downloading the revised guide. 

A Conference About Young People, With Young People

Every year, Arizona State University (ASU) and Global Silicon Valley (GSV) host a summit to connect leaders who are interested in transforming society and business around learning and work to ensure that more young people can succeed in work and in life. This year’s conference, which took place at the beginning of April 2022, featured a rich array of sessions and education experts, on topics ranging from data and technology in education to the latest cultural trends shaping higher education. 

During the “Letting Youth Voices Drive the Narrative Around Post-Secondary Paths” session, which was moderated by Mike Marriner, co-founder and president of RoadTrip Nation, three young people shared their experiences of what high school and college enrollment felt like for them during the pandemic. In their stories, you can hear what they experienced when the world–and their education experiences and plans–seemingly changed overnight. You can also hear about their resilience and their determination to succeed. Most of all, their comments showcase not only how eager they are to learn from adults, but also how much adults can benefit from truly listening to the myriad of goals and aspirations that young people hold for their futures. Listen to the full session here

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