Boston Opportunity Youth Collaborative

Twenty years of work to reconnect opportunity youth

The Boston Opportunity Youth Collaborative (OYC), co-convened by the Boston Opportunity Agenda (BOA) and the Boston Private Industry Council (PIC), began in the spring of 2013 with support from the Aspen Opportunity Youth Incentive Fund (now the Aspen Opportunity Youth Forum). The OYC is a cross-sector group, whose members include the Boston Public Schools (BPS), Bunker Hill Community College (BHCC), local community-based organizations, foundations, and city and state agencies. The OYC is part of a national movement to build pathways to education, employment, and economic independence for opportunity youth—16-24 year-olds who are disconnected from education, employment, and training. Early research showed that most of Boston’s Opportunity Youth had a high school credential, so the OYC decided to focus on postsecondary pathways for opportunity youth ages 18-24.

The OYC is built on strong foundational initiatives:

The Youth Transitions Task Force, started in 2004, has been working with BPS and partners to reduce high school dropout rates from 9.9% (1,827 students) in 2006 to 3.7% (520 students) in 2022. The Boston Public Schools’ (BPS) four-year graduation rates increased from 59.1% to 81% over the same time period.

As part of the city’s dropout reduction work:

  • The PIC pioneered a Re-Engagement Center in close partnership with the BPS.
  • The BPS implemented system-wide interventions, such as online credit recovery, a multi-tiered intervention system, and an attendance campaign.

Success Boston, a citywide college completion initiative started in 2008, set a goal of increasing BPS graduates’ 6-year college completion rate from 41% for the class of 2000 to 70%. So far, it has increased to 52% for the class of 2015.

Among other activities, Success Boston:

  • Developed capacity to track postsecondary progress for each BPS graduating class.
  • Piloted postsecondary coaching to support BPS graduates’ transition into college and progress through it.

Current initiatives and strategies:

Empowering young men of color at community college. HOPE Forward - This program builds on BHCC’s Halting Oppressive Pathways (HOPE) Initiative, which brings together faculty and students of color in a learning community centered on anti-racism, belonging, meaning-making, purpose, and empowerment. HOPE Forward is an initiative, funded by Aspen’s Building Ecosystems for Youth Opportunity grant, that provides college coaching to young men of color. HOPE staff and student ambassadors build community, pilot interventions, and provide peer mentoring to fellow students.

Engaging the workforce system in career pathways. Young Adult Career Center Services - In a pilot initiative, Jewish Vocational Services (JVS), with support from the PIC, the Mayor’s Office of Workforce Development, and the BPS, is launching young adult career center services. The program, which will employ outreach workers as well as coaches, will bring young adults into the career center at JVS to access career coaching, employment connections, and job-training referrals. This new initiative will focus on (1) recent BPS graduates who are not in college, (2) Workforce Investment and Opportunity Act (WIOA) Youth participants, (3) community college stop-outs, and (4) other 18-24-year-olds not enrolled in postsecondary education or training.

Elevating youth voice. Healing Centered Organizing (Youth Voice) - In partnership with the United Way of Massachusetts Bay, the OYC recently completed a youth voice project focused on mental health. During the pandemic, PIC career coaches organized mental health peer leadership training led by a local BIPOC-owned therapy practice. The young adult participants further engaged with the community to advocate for mental health services for young people, with some participating as youth ambassadors on a mental health advisory council organized by a Boston City Councilor. OYC’s Healing Centered Youth Organizing project, funded by Aspen’s Youth-Led Change Fund, hired these young adults to continue the project and held a conference for young adults on the issue.

Using data to advance equitable educational attainment. Data for Impact - Data for Impact, a partnership among the PIC, BOA, the BPS, and BHCC, is focused on identifying student cohorts that are at high-risk of disengaging from school and using data to drive targeted interventions. The initiative is funded by the Aspen Institute for Community Solutions, with support from the Ballmer Group. The BPS efforts focus on chronic absenteeism, using Panorama, a new database that tracks chronic absentees and school-based interventions to improve attendance and inform policy. BHCC is focusing on improving outcomes for BPS graduates, especially students of color, through close attention to disaggregated student performance data.

Setting targets to reduce youth disconnection:

  • The OYC used local Census data to estimate the number of Opportunity Youth (OY) living in Boston between 2007 and 2019.
  • In 2018,we adopted Aspen’s Common Measures, which disaggregate OY into three groups; those disconnected from high school, postsecondary, and the workforce.
  • In 2020, we worked with Aspen to set targets for reducing disconnection after the spike in disconnection rates caused by the pandemic:
    • Reduce the overall community disconnection rate by 19% by 2025.
    • Reduce the high school disconnection rate by 34% by 2025.
    • Reduce the postsecondary disconnection rate by 9% by 2025.
    • Reduce the workforce disconnection rate by 26% by 2025.