Trends in Education and Workforce Indicators for Boston Youth and Young Adults, 2006 to 2016

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By Joe McLaughlin, Anika Van Eaton, and Kathy Hamilton, Boston Private Industry Council

Since its first convening in 2013, the Boston Opportunity Youth Collaborative (OYC) has tracked key education and workforce measures to inform program design and assess progress on its goals for improving the economic well-being of 16 to 24 year olds in Boston. The OYC’s work builds on progress made in existing dropout prevention and recovery and college completion collective impact initiatives.

This brief highlights trends over the past decade (2006-2016) for five indicators described below. The first four indicators are for students from the Boston Public Schools district (BPS). These educational attainment indicators influence the fifth indicator, a citywide measure of disconnection from school and employment, derived from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Surveys. Increases in high school graduation, college enrollment, and college completion rates should lead to lower disconnection rates of Boston’s young adults over time. Over the past ten years, Boston has experienced:

  • Declining high school dropout rates: From 2005-2006 to the 2015-2016 school year, the BPS high school dropout rate has been halved, declining from 9.4% to 4.5%. Over the last four school years, there have been 823 dropouts on average, down from 1,936 in 2005-2006.
  • Increasing high school graduation rates: The 4-year high school graduation rate for BPS increased from 59.1% in 2006 to 72.4% in 2016, a 13 percentage point gain. The 5-year graduation rate for the 2015 cohort reached 76.0%. Both the 4-year and 5-year rates for the most recent cohorts available represented historic highs for the school district.
  • Rising college enrollment rates: The percentage of high school graduates attending an institution of higher education within 16 months of high school increased by over 10 percentage points from 61.2% for the BPS Class of 2006 to 71.6% for the BPS Class of 2014, the most recent class year available.
  • 6-year college completion rates of BPS graduates climbing: The six-year college completion rate of BPS Class of 2009 graduates, who first enrolled in college in the immediate year after graduation, increased to 51.3%, up nearly 10 percentage points from the BPS Class of 2000.
  • Fewer opportunity youth: The number or percent of 16-24 year olds residing in the city of Boston who are neither in school nor employed declined from its peaks reached during the 2008-2009 recession and weak recovery.

Progress has been made on all five indicators. On the first four education measures, gains were made by male and female students and students in each of the four major race-ethnic groups. The gains on these educational indicators should continue to put downward pressure on the city’s disconnection rate as youth aging into their early 20s have higher rates of high school completion and more years of postsecondary schooling completed.

Despite these positive trends, the brief reveals wide gender and race-ethnic gaps for each indicator. White and Asian students graduate high school in four years at rates 13 to 22 points above their Black and Hispanic/ Latino peers. On the measure of college enrollment, the gaps between Asian and White students and Black and Hispanic/ Latino students range from 9 to 14 percentage points. For those that enroll in college during the first year after high school, college completion rates range from a low of 40 to 42 percent for Black and Hispanic/ Latino youth to a high of 75 percent for Asian BPS graduates. While these gaps persist, the race-ethnic gaps have narrowed, particularly for high school dropout and graduation rates. The challenges over the next decade are to continue to make progress on each indicator while closing gender and race-ethnic gaps.

The OYC, jointly convened by the Boston Private Industry Council (PIC) and the Boston Opportunity Agenda, as part of the Aspen Institute’s national initiative around Opportunity Youth, used these indicators to organize pathways that would continue the progress and address the gaps. Based on analysis of the city’s disconnected population, the Collaborative honed its focus on opportunity youth who already have a high school credential, the largest opportunity youth group in Boston at the time we first convened. Many of these young adults enrolled in college but left before earning a postsecondary certificate or degree. Others did not immediately enroll in college after high school and have been unable to obtain career-oriented employers.

The OYC prioritized the following pathway elements in its pilot: 1) a Connection Center to provide outreach, intake, and initial pathway referrals, 2) postsecondary bridging and support at two-year colleges, 3) occupational training, 4) life coaching, and 5) career explorations. To address race and gender equity, the OYC prioritizes young men and women of color for its pathways, and has set a goal that 50% of the young adults that the Connection Center serves will be young men of color.

Read the full brief here.