A GED – or general education diploma – once was a “good enough diploma,” as comedian Chris Rock has called it.
But that description is increasingly becoming a harmful falsity for youths and those charged with preparing youths for jobs in the modern economy.
“For a while, I think a lot of programs, ourselves included, looked at the GED as the end-point of intervention,” said Stephen Pratt, CEO of My Turn Inc., a Brockton, Mass.-based youth agency.
“We looked at the GED as a victory.”
But now more and more research shows that to secure a decent-paying job, it’s becoming increasingly incumbent for youths to have some type of post-secondary education or training.
That’s the purpose behind the Postsecondary Success Initiative (PSI), a three-year pilot meant to enable community-based organizations to put low-income youth and young adults on the path to a postsecondary credential or certificate, and ultimately living wage jobs.
My Turn Inc. is one of eight agencies selected recently by the National Youth Employment Coalition (NYEC) to implement programs under the initiative, which is funded with a $5.2 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and $900,000 from the Nellie Mae Foundation.
The eight selected sites will split $4.2 million over the next three years to implement and run their programs. Each agency got from $150,000 to $200,000 per year. NYEC will use the remaining funds to provide assistance and support to the agencies during the duration of the grants, or to expand the programs in the future.
One of the pilot’s aims is to gain and provide insight for how to get out-of-school youths back into the classroom for something more than just a GED. The project is also meant to influence policy at the state and national levels, according to officials at NYEC.
Pratt, of My Turn Inc., said the idea is not to replace the GED, but to supplement it with an “employer-recognized credential.” In the case of My Turn, that will involve educating and training 150 youths ages 16 to 21 over three years in three industries: retail, health care and human services.
Pratt said he was initially skeptical about the value of a credential, particularly in retail. After all, do you really need a certificate to work at a department store? But Pratt said he changed his views after conducting a series of focus groups with Brockton area retailers. He said the retail credential that youths will earn through My Turn’s initiative is recommended by the National Retail Federation.
“This is recognized by employers in retail as a valuable additional tool,” Pratt said. “If you apply for an assistant manager position at Best Buy with only a GED, you won’t get it.” But with a retail credential, Pratt said, “If nothing else, the employer is going to take a longer look at you.”
It’s not so much degree as what the degree signifies about the persistency of its holder. He reasons that in today’s tight job market, youths with credentials will stand out from the rest. Employers, he said, will conclude: “This young person is serious, disciplined. They stuck it out for an 18-month program. That’s the kind of person I’d take a chance on.”
In addition to My Turn, Inc., the other sites selected for the Postsecondary Success Initiative are:
Improved Solutions for Urban Systems (ISUS), Dayton, Ohio.: High school dropouts will be enrolled in one of three charter schools – the ISUS Institute of Construction, ISUS Institute of Advanced Manufacturing/Computer Technology or the ISUS Healthcare Institute – to earn their high school diplomas. Youths will also be dually enrolled at Sinclair Community College, Clark State Community College or Associated Builders and Contractors, an apprenticeship and internship partner.
Larkin Street Youth Services, San Francisco: Youth will participate in educational programs and get case management services through postsecondary education and scholarships. Larkin is partnering with City College of San Francisco
Los Angeles Conservation Corps: Corps members will complete a nine-week intensive Postsecondary Achievement Program on in-depth college readiness activities. They will also receive case management supports, scholarships and training on job readiness. The agency is partnering with the Los Angeles Trade Technical College and Sierra Community College.
Open Meadow, Portland, Ore. : Youths will be served in one of four education and transition programs – Career Foundations/Transitions, Connections, Year 13 and Year 14. Youths will identify careers of interest, participate in a two-trimester long transition course, receive individual and peer group mentoring during postsecondary education and go through career training.
The College Initiative, New York City: The “Learning to Work” program will target youth with a high school diploma or GED who have been locked up or serving “alternative to incarceration” commitments. The program will focus on taking a cohort of young people and supporting them through college preparation, enrollment, retention and degree completion, to job training and placement. The College Initiative will apply a four-point approach: outreach, college preparation, mentoring and job development in association with the City University of New York’s (CUNY) College Opportunity to Prepare for Employment (COPE) program.
X-Cel, Jamaica Plain, Mass.: Youth will receive GED prep, job readiness, college transition and placement test preparation in a 14-week program. During postsecondary education youth participate in small group counseling and receive case management services.
Youth Development Institute, New York City: In partnership with the New York City College of Technology, Good Shepherd Services and Cypress Hills Local Development Corporation, YDI will work with the college and CBOs to understand and provide the supports necessary for youth to succeed in college.