Dear Friends,

Earlier this month we released a new report, Opportunity Youth: College Success, looking at how to make postsecondary degrees more accessible for opportunity youth (OY) and first-generation college students. It's the latest in a series of reports focused on challenges facing OY—the nearly 5 million young Americans who are not working or in school.

Last year, we looked at ways to dismantle the school to prison pipeline to change policies and practices that push our students, especially our most at-risk youth, out of classrooms and into the juvenile justice system. In 2014 we looked at ways to expand high-school equivalency programs that provide both academic and non-academic support to prepare students for success in life. Having looked at how to support young people in completing a high school diploma or its equivalent, it seemed like a natural next step to look at the challenges OY face when enrolling in college.

We are grateful for our partnership with the Boston Opportunity Youth Collaborative on this work and look forward to continuing to work together to improve outcomes for all students.


Chad Signiture

Chad d'Entremont, Ph.D.
Executive Director


In our ever-changing global economy, earning a sustainable wage with only a high school diploma or GED has become nearly impossible. Ninety-nine percent of new jobs created since the recession have gone to workers with some level of postsecondary education. This climate is putting our most vulnerable students at an even greater disadvantage.

Success in the 21st century workforce is especially difficult for students who are the first in their family to go to college and those considered opportunity youth—young people who are not in school or working. These two groups often don’t see themselves as college-going and lack the knowledge about higher education that others may learn from their parents or community. Often from low-income communities, many of these students have left high school to work and gone through a high school equivalency program to earn a GED. Nearly half of students with a GED enroll in post-secondary programs in hopes of building a career and supporting their families. But their road to graduation can be daunting, and most don’t make it. Less than 12 percent of those with a GED graduate from a post-secondary institution.

The biggest obstacles for most of these students come from outside the classroom. Many are juggling school along with jobs and caring for children and aging parents. Some are struggling with hunger and have to choose between going to class or working another shift to put food on the table. Applying for financial aid, housing assistance, or support for child care are complex processes and, without guidance, can prevent students from getting the services they need to stay in school. Course selection can also be a challenge as many students are unsure of the requirements needed to complete college successfully. This can lead to students using loans to pay for courses that don’t count toward a degree.

To truly make our education system more equitable, we must find ways to make getting post-secondary degrees more attainable for all students. That’s why we teamed up with the Opportunity Youth Collaborative to research ways colleges, communities, and the Commonwealth can help remove the barriers many students face. The report, Opportunity Youth: College Success, identifies a series of potential solutions.

First, we need to prepare young people for higher education while they’re still in high school or a GED program. The best way to do this is to allow students to take college courses while still in high school and earn credit for both. This approach, known as early college, has been shown to help students reduce the time and cost of getting a degree, get acquainted with expectations of campuses, and identify skill gaps that can be addressed before they start paying tuition so they can avoid costly developmental (remedial) courses. Above all, this experience can also make getting a degree more accessible for students who don’t think of themselves as college-bound.
Next, we need to coach students on their choices from early on in the process. This starts with assigning students transition coaches to provide guidance on admissions, enrollment, transition, and financing. Coaching should focus on academic and nonacademic needs so that students know what they need to succeed. Regular access to comprehensive coaching—that stretches beyond students’ transition to campus—builds students’ ability to navigate toward a degree.

Perhaps most importantly, we need on-campus supports to help students tackle the challenges they are facing outside school so they can focus on learning. This means centralizing assistance programs and collaborating with social service agencies to help students address housing needs, child care, hunger, and emergency aid.

Addressing these issues can vastly improve students’ chances of graduating. But colleges can’t do it alone. This will require a joint effort between state education agencies, community organizations, and higher education leaders. Together, Massachusetts can make postsecondary degrees more attainable for first-generation college students and opportunity youth, helping to give all students the chance for success in tomorrow’s workforce.

The percentage of opportunity youth is one key indicator the Rennie Center uses to assess progress in our education system. To learn about other indicators and look at progress over time or outcomes for different student groups, check out our interactive data dashboard

Please contact Catherine Rauseo at 617-354-0002, ext. 8 with any questions.



Apply Now

Social Emotional Learning Network
Notify us of intent to apply by 6/30 Applications due 7/31

Excellence through Social Emotional Learning (exSEL) is looking for Massachusetts districts to join a network focused on promoting social emotional learning (SEL) in schools.
Learn more and apply>

Massachusetts Education Policy Fellowship Program (EPFP)
Deadline Extended to 6/30

The Rennie Center is now accepting applications for the 2017-18 Massachusetts Education Policy Fellowship Program (EPFP). This is a ten-month professional development program for individuals working in education and related fields who are interested in developing their knowledge and skills in leadership, policy, and networking.
Learn more and apply>

Rennie in the News

Worcester Public Schools
Strategic Plan

Worcester News Tonight, Charter TV3
June 16, 2017
Worcester Public School is teaming up with an independent research firm in hopes of becoming Massachusetts' best urban district. The Rennie Center will be working with Worcester Public Schools to engage the community, analyze their data, and come up with a new strategic plan...[read more]

New Strategic Plan in the Works for Worcester Schools
Scott O'Connell, Worcester Telegram & Gazette The Republican/MassLive
June 16, 2017
Fulfilling a request made more than a year ago by elected school officials and local research and policy groups, Superintendent Maureen Binienda on Friday announced her administration will develop a strategic plan for the district over the remainder of the year. The district will receive help with the project from the Rennie Center, a Boston-based education think tank, as well as several local organizations, including the Worcester Education Collaborative and Worcester Regional Research Bureau.
...[read more]



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