The voices of Urban Institute's researchers and staff
August 29, 2017

Improving college and career readiness for boys and young men of color

August 29, 2017

Boys and young men of color in the United States face a complex, deeply ingrained set of disadvantages that leave them experiencing poorer outcomes on key measures of college and career readiness compared with their peers. This is particularly true for those from low-income families. Many of these disadvantages begin at birth and persist into adulthood.

Evidence shows how institutional discrimination and adverse neighborhood and home environments leave boys and young men of color with fewer of the resources and skills necessary to succeed academically and in the workforce. Although reducing these discrepancies will require systemic changes commensurate with their scope and causes, smaller-scale programs designed to prepare this population for college and career success can play a vital role.

We recently evaluated a program designed to prepare at-risk high school students for work and college success and found promising results, particularly for boys and young men of color.

The Urban Alliance High School Internship Program targets high school seniors at risk of neither attending college nor having a job after graduation. A large majority (88 percent) of students in the program during our study period were African American, and most lived in single-parent households in economically distressed neighborhoods. Key program components include hard- and soft-skills group training sessions, coaching and mentoring, a paid internship in an office setting, and continued support services after the program ends. Several of these components have shown promise in improving workforce outcomes for youth.

We measured the program’s effects one and two years after expected high school graduation, comparing outcomes of youth who were offered the program with those who were not. Compared with those who were not offered the program, young men who completed the program were

  • 8 percentage points more likely to have graduated from high school one year after expected graduation,
  • 11 percentage points more likely to have completed two years of college and 28 percentage points more likely to be attending college two years after finishing high school, and
  • more likely to report comfort with soft skills (e.g., speaking with adult coworkers or making a presentation) two years after finishing high school.

Notably, these impacts were not found for young women who participated. Because young women typically achieve better academic and workplace readiness outcomes than young men, this suggests that the program helps men catch up to women in these areas.

The evaluation did not find any effects on employment, wages, or savings. We found that men who had participated were less likely to have a job one year after applying to the program. This reduced employment is likely because of increased college attendance, and it is likely that positive outcomes would develop over a longer period than the roughly two years the evaluation covered.

The findings from our evaluation of Urban Alliance’s internship program are encouraging because they suggest interventions that can help boys and young men of color achieve greater success in the first years after high school. But more research is needed to examine the long-term effects of Urban Alliance and other programs on employment and what more could improve outcomes for girls and young women. 

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