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.
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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.