Q&A: How a New Partnership is Helping Disconnected Youth

Publication Date: September 13, 2016

The lack of education is one of the most common barriers to self-sufficiency for disconnected youth. We know that earning a post-secondary degree and obtaining training beyond high school is now a prerequisite for entering the middle class. While we have made progress toward meeting the educational needs of disconnected youth, we recognize that more can be done to help others obtain their educational potential.

To address this issue, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the U.S. Department of Education (ED) announced a new partnership to promote better outcomes for disconnected youth in November 2015. This partnership seeks to provide coordinated support to disconnected youth who too often lack access to postsecondary education and skill training opportunities. The two partnering offices believe that by bringing our Departments, programs, and grantees closer together, they can help connect even more youth to important education and other critical services, such as those that offer emergency shelter, teen pregnancy prevention, and family violence prevention services.

We spoke to Linda Byrd-Johnson, Senior Director of the Student Service area within the Office of Postsecondary Education at ED, and Debbie Powell, Deputy Associate Commissioner of FYSB, to discuss why this collaboration is so important and what it could potentially mean for diverse populations of disconnected youth.

NCFY: Why is this collaboration between the HHS and ED important to help disconnected youth?

Byrd-Johnson: We believe this collaboration is important because we want to make certain students served by programs administered by the ED Office of Postsecondary Education (OPE), have access to information about any federal program that may benefit them as they seek to improve their educational attainment, be it graduating from high school and/or enrolling in programs of postsecondary education.

Powell: We believe this partnership is critical because it emphasizes the importance of increasing access to and success in postsecondary education and other training opportunities for disconnected youth. It is also important because a growing number of studies have suggested that connecting disconnected youth to post-secondary education and training can serve as a protective factor and help them avoid adverse outcomes, including poverty and homelessness.

NCFY: How is this collaboration bringing together FYSB and OPE grantees and what outcomes can youth receiving services in these programs expect?

Powell: This unique collaboration is allowing FYSB and OPE grantees the opportunity to connect and get to know each other’s resources, services, and opportunities that have been designed to uplift disconnected youth and help them move their dreams into reality. Many of our grantees are learning about services offered through OPE that can help FYSB’s youth as they prepare for college entrance. FYSB and OPE youth can expect to find caring adults at our programs, who want to help them explore their educational aspirations, find and complete critical applications, such as the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and remove barriers to enrollment.

Byrd-Johnson: Our [OPE] grantees are exposed to other services [provided by FYSB] that are available to the students because they recognize some of the students they serve have certain kinds of needs. They have another colleague to reach out to and say, “I have this student here and this is what he or she needs.” The students feel like they have more than just one source so that they can be successful in pursuing their educational dream of graduating or even just getting to the next grade in high school.

NCFY: What are the Federal TRIO and GEAR UP (Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs) programs and how can youth workers use them to meet the needs of youth they serve?

Byrd-Johnson: The Federal TRIO Programs are a suite of about seven programs that provide services to low-income, first-generation and disabled college students. [There are two types of] GEAR UP programs: grants to the state and grants to partnerships, [such as] school districts and local educational associations. [The overall goal] of these programs is to make sure eligible students have the skills they need to be successful at the level of high school. The major distinction is that TRIO programs work with individual students from different target schools and GEAR UP programs serve all of the students in a cohort beginning with the seventh grade that go to one particular high school. [It tracks them] through their first year of post-secondary enrollment.

Powell: Our platform for [the] runaway and homeless youth program supports positive youth development activities. FYSB wants to ensure that disconnected youth, including youth that have run away, are asked to leave or become homeless, receive the postsecondary education and training needed for them to obtain employment and a stable life. We are committed to expanding our relationship with OPE and continuously challenging ourselves to help clear the gateway to success for youth in need of support. Whether the youth we serve are working toward pursing a degree or gaining valuable training, we want to place higher education within reach and help them lead productive and healthier lives.

Byrd-Johnson: I suspect [FYSB] grantees are like grantees in OPE, and especially grantees that work with the students served by our programs. They are more than just project directors. They demonstrate a personal commitment to the students, going beyond the call of duty to try to find additional resources for them.

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