In the United States, nearly five million, or one in nine, young people between the ages of 16 and 24 are classified as “opportunity youth.” That is, they are neither in school nor in the workforce. This presents broad economic and social challenges for entire communities. CUMU member institutions can play a key role in addressing the barriers leading to these high levels of disconnection from education and employment.

Unequal access to opportunity appears in many forms, but ultimately it severely constrains the future possibilities for millions of young Americans. In years past, the mantra “a rising tide lifts all boats” was generally accepted as truth. Today, policymakers, elected officials and community and civic organizations recognize that the economy is growing, but not everyone is benefiting. And those that do see benefits, are not benefiting equally. If the urban communities where CUMU member institutions are to succeed, all of our communities and the residents in them must also have equal opportunity for success.

In 2019, CUMU partnered with Cleveland State University’s Center for Community Planning & Development to undertake a four-month long research project to identify and inventory opportunity youth programs across the CUMU membership and develop recommendations for institutions who are starting and/or engaging in programs to support opportunity youth. This opportunity youth research project was supported by a grant from the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

Quick Links

Use these links to quickly navigate the complete opportunity youth research report.

  • View complete report.
  • Overview and history of opportunity youth programs: The notion of opportunity youth has always existed. What has changed is the evolving view of youth that at one time were considered in negative terms.
  • Field scan of opportunity youth programs: Most programs identified in our examination of university-led initiatives across the CUMU membership focus on strategies to prevent or reduce disconnection rather than on re-engagement strategies.
  • Opportunity youth program interviews: Our research team interviewed representatives from opportunity youth programs based on CUMU member campuses as well as community-based programs.
  • Case examples: The report highlights case examples from community-based organizations and CUMU members.
  • Appendices: Appendix A highlights opportunity youth-like programming across the CUMU membership. Appendix B highlights information on opportunity youth programs at member institutions. Appendix C highlights community-based opportunity youth programs.


CITE THIS GUIDE: Schnoke, M. (2019). Opportunity Youth Programs Based in Urban and Metropolitan Universities: A Scan of the Field. Coalition of Urban and Metropolitan Universities (CUMU). https://www.cumuonline.org/research/opportunity-youth-research/

The Center for Community Planning & Development at the Levin College of Urban Affairs at Cleveland State University strengthens the practice of planning and community development through independent research, technical assistance, and civic education and engagement. The Center works in partnership with public, private and non-profit organizations, local governments, and development and planning professionals.


  • Planning, program development and evaluation to foster resilient, just and prosperous communities, improve the quality of life, attack the causes of poverty and inequality, and advance the sustainable development of urban regions.
  • Public policy research to inform policymakers as they respond to issues related to housing and neighborhood development and change (including foreclosures and vacant and abandoned property).
  • Data development and dissemination to promote the exchange of information and data and technical assistance about community planning, development and housing issues.
  • Convening and engaged learning to link the university and the community in the dynamic exchange of ideas, expertise and knowledge on issues of importance to the future of Northeast Ohio communities. Provide opportunities for students and faculty to extend classroom learning to real-world applications.

The Annie E. Casey Foundation is devoted to developing a brighter future for millions of children at risk of poor educational, economic, social and health outcomes.

Our work focuses on strengthening families, building stronger communities and ensuring access to opportunity, because children need all three to succeed. We advance research and solutions to overcome the barriers to success, help communities demonstrate what works and influence decision makers to invest in strategies based on solid evidence.

As a private philanthropy based in Baltimore and working across the country, we make grants that help federal agencies, states, counties, cities and neighborhoods create more innovative, cost-effective responses to the issues that negatively affect children: poverty, unnecessary disconnection from family and communities with limited access to opportunity.

Since 1948, these efforts have translated into more informed policies and practices and yielded positive results for larger numbers of kids and families.