Foundation Awards $1.4 million Grant to Address Disconnected Youth
Career Compass of Louisiana and Foundation will partner on work
The Rapides Foundation has awarded a $1.4 million grant to Career Compass of Louisiana that addresses the high number of young adults between the ages of 16 and 24 who are neither working nor pursuing an education. Often referred to as “disconnected youth,” a recent study by the Foundation found that nearly 7,500 young adults in Central Louisiana meet those criteria.
“The formative years between ages 16 and 24 are a critical time for young people to develop skills, earn credentials and have experiences that will impact their future,” said Joe Rosier, President and CEO of The Rapides Foundation. “Recent research has shown that young adults who experience disconnection have significantly lower incomes, are less likely to be employed, and have poorer health outcomes than their peers.”
Beyond Graduation is a project designed to address the gap between high school seniors that graduate and apply to postsecondary institutions and those that enroll in their first fall semester.
The project will fund trained career coaches to assist high school students with successfully transitioning to a local two- or four-year university or technical community college. It will also fund staff at participating postsecondary institutions to provide ongoing services to Beyond Graduation students during their college tenure to ensure they continue to progress toward completion.
The Beyond Graduation grant is funded as part of the Foundation’s Workforce Skills and Talent Development component of its Economic Development Initiative. The multi-year grant will be piloted for two years in LaSalle, Natchitoches and Rapides parishes and will initially focus on high school seniors who are at risk of disconnection after they graduate. The pilot will provide an opportunity to learn more about the effectiveness of the strategies and provide input to the project’s future plans to expand to all nine school districts in the Foundation’s service area.
The public school districts, Central Louisiana Technical Community College, Northwestern State University and LSU of Alexandria are partners on the Beyond Graduation project.
In 2019, the Foundation partnered with Measure of America to determine the level of disconnection in Central Louisiana. Its study found that 21.4% of Central Louisiana individuals between the ages of 16 and 24 were not in school and not employed. The national rate is 11.5%.
“One problem we found is that a high number of Central Louisiana high school seniors apply to a university or community college, but a large percentage of that number don’t actually enroll in college for the fall semester after they graduate from high school. We are trying to close that gap of students who applied to, but never enrolled, in postsecondary education,” Rosier said.
The Foundation then partnered with Jobs for the Future (JFF), a national leader in disconnected youth, to provide insight into potential strategies and interventions for young adults in the Central Louisiana region. This work included interviews with local employers, superintendents, postsecondary institutions, youth service providers and disconnected youth.
JFF recommended two types of strategies to prevent disconnection: retention and reconnection. Retention strategies and interventions are designed to ensure students stay within the education pipeline. Reconnection strategies attempt to reconnect young adults who have dropped out of the education system to meaningful education and employment opportunities.
The Beyond Graduation project is a retention strategy that will focus on helping high school seniors successfully transition to a two- or four-year university or community college. Though the project is focusing on three districts, future plans are to expand to all nine school districts in the Foundation’s service area depending on the success of the pilot.
Career Compass of Louisiana, a nonprofit education organization, has a longstanding working relationship with The Rapides Foundation and its education arm, The Orchard Foundation. As part of a 2012 grant under the Foundation’s Career and Postsecondary Readiness Initiative, Career Compass has been providing postsecondary coaching services to middle school and high school students throughout Central Louisiana.
The Beyond Graduation project will extend those services even further by providing coaching services to support students at key benchmarks during their high school and college years. This will include one-on-one college and career coaching during high school, early outreach and support by college-level coaches, and assistance with transitioning to college, summer workshops and orientations before college starts. Coaches will continue supporting the student throughout their college career.
For the pilot program, the first cohort of high school seniors identified for the program began working with their coaches in Fall 2021.
"Since 2006, Career Compass of Louisiana has helped nearly 129,000 high school seniors from Louisiana communities as they take the next step to pursue education and training after high school,” said Dr. Chris Maggio, Beyond Graduation Project Manager. “With the new Beyond Graduation project, we and our partners are taking our collective support to the next level for the students who need it most. Through this grant from The Rapides Foundation, Central Louisiana high school students who experience barriers to postsecondary education will now have additional layers of support in high school and college. We are deeply grateful for The Rapides Foundation’s continued support of our goal to help all students gain access to education and training beyond graduation.”