by Lili Allen

Although high school graduation rates are rising in Texas, 5.9% of the Class of 2017 left school without a diploma or equivalent credential. GTF awarded a grant of $895,000 to JFF (Jobs for the Future) to restore opportunities to these students and others who have not made the transition from high school to postsecondary education on a traditional timeline. With the grant, JFF is leading five dropout recovery programs across the state1 in implementing its successful “Back on Track” model, which not only helps students earn a high school credential but guides them onto a postsecondary pathway that aligns with their goals. Lili Allen, JFF’s associate vice president for reconnection designs, describes early outcomes of the initiative:

JFF’s Back on Track: Postsecondary Success model enables young people who have fallen off-track to graduation, or left high school altogether, to transition into and succeed in postsecondary education. The Back on Track model contains specific components drawn from best practice yet is flexible enough to guide pathway development across a wide range of contexts. The pathway is organized around distinct, supportive phases, delivered through partnerships. Phase One: Enriched Preparation integrates high-quality college and career readiness instruction with strong academic and social supports. Phase Two: Postsecondary Bridging builds college and career readiness skills and provides informed transition counseling. Phase Three: First Year Supports offers appropriate supports to ensure postsecondary persistence and career success.

The five programs supported by the Back on Track grant from GTF are hard at work implementing the model. Following a highly successful two-day launch meeting, all five grantees introduced JFF’s postsecondary readiness Common Instructional Framework to their academic and transitions staff. Each program has already begun to integrate specific strategies into their high school academic and vocational curricula, and all grantees will receive additional on-site staff training from JFF to further embed them. At the same time, all five sites are designing or refining senior-year college readiness seminars, college entrance test preparation classes, and tuition-free credit-bearing summer bridge programs for students preparing to enter college in collaboration with their postsecondary partners.

Finally, all five grantees have already launched culture-shifting practices to reinforce the notion that “college” is a viable option and that all students will graduate “postsecondary ready” with an in-demand career pathway plan. These include messaging during student recruitment; adjustments to student orientation, initial assessment, and goal-setting; and even changing
perceptions about what good instruction and advising looks like.

These wide-reaching changes are already having an impact on teachers, staff, and students. In the words of one grantee, “All staff see themselves as integral members of a postsecondary success team. We’ve seen a mind shift and environment change, and are looking at graduation from a different perspective: not an ending but a stepping stone!” Others have told us this grant is transformational for their team. It has allowed them to think beyond their high school curriculum and high school graduation in out-of-the-box ways. They are having conversations with postsecondary partners about supports for their students in college that they previously did not feel comfortable or equipped to have.

Even students are noticing the effects of this work. During a visit to one of the schools, a student took the time to personally thank us (JFF) for enabling her school to hire their college transitions advisor, who already has helped her find her right college and prepare to apply.

These tremendous changes are just the beginning. We are confident these five programs will continue to improve outcomes for their students and serve as leaders in the dropout recovery field.

1 Participating organizations include American YouthWorks in Austin, Forth Worth CAN Academy – Westcreek, La Joya ISD College and Career Center, Restore Education in San Antonio, and Goodwill Excel Center in Austin.


What advice do you have for organizations that want to build stronger bridges
from high school to postsecondary for young people who have dropped out?

  • Move beyond credit recovery or GED preparation and use instructional strategies that help young people develop the knowledge, skills, and behaviors necessary for postsecondary success.

  • Help young people set aspirational career goals beyond high school and show them the postsecondary path to achieve them.

  • Understand the regional labor market, the in-demand careers, and the postsecondary institutions that prepare students for those careers.

  • Build partnerships with postsecondary institutions and training programs that enable youth to participate in postsecondary activities while in high school, or in a summer bridge program.