By Stephanie Nellons-Paige, Senior Director, Metro Engagement and Relations, USA Funds
USA Funds® is partnering with the U.S. Conference of Mayors to identify best practice models for city leaders seeking to strengthen their communities by boosting high school graduation rates, increasing college enrollment and completion rates, and connecting local employers with homegrown talent.
At the USCM’s recent annual meeting, Denver; Grand Rapids, Mich.; and Long Beach, Calif. were recognized for their efforts to advance college completion and career readiness through new partnerships with leaders in K-12, higher education, workforce development, and the business community.
The three cities were chosen from a field of 41 cities that responded to a competitive grant program USCM and USA Funds jointly established to identify and support successful collaborations by school systems and employers to promote academic preparation, college completion, and career readiness. In all, 17 semifinalists were selected: six large cities, six medium-sized urban areas, and five small cities.
A quick review of what these cities and their mayors are doing reveals several key practices that are producing results.
- Take a deep data dive. Denver Mayor Michael Hancock insists on regularly reviewing detailed demographic data to identify communities in need and direct city resources to at-risk youth. Just as important, program outcomes must be tracked, measured and evaluated to keep the focus on successful initiatives.
- Support K-12 education. In most U.S. cities, mayors have no direct or even indirect control over public school systems. Still, city leaders can serve primary and secondary students outside regular classroom hours. Mayors can promote before- and after-school activities, work-based learning initiatives, and access to technology.
- Build citywide partnerships among key stakeholders. City hall can serve as the central organizing force that encourages schools, employers, and nonprofit organizations to share information and collaborate. For example, in Long Beach, the Mayor’s Internship Initiative links local businesses and the workforce investment board via an online hub that students can access to find to internship opportunities.
- Offer at-risk youth much more than test prep. In urban areas with high unemployment rates, children living in poverty may not be able to take advantage of internship programs because they simply don’t understand where to start. In Grand Rapids, local employers are answering the city’s call to provide six-month-long internships that offer 10 hours of meaningful work per week. The city not only subsidizes students’ wages ($10 an hour) but also provides an intensive, 90-hour boot camp to help program participants prepare for the work world — how to dress, how to handle a job interview, how to get along with coworkers.
- Accelerate the on-ramp to 21st Century careers. A number of cities, including Albuquerque, N.M.; Hialeah, Fla.; Los Angeles; New York; and St. Louis are working with local colleges to provide dual enrollment courses to high school students. These college-level classes are giving at-risk students a head start on earning a college degree and preparing them for careers in STEM and other high-demand fields. In fact, many students are now able to complete a two-year, associate degree before they graduate from high school.
The central theme to these best practices is the importance of the mayor’s leadership role in improving education and career outcomes. Mayors may not command city school systems, but they can direct city resources and social services to meet the needs of at-risk youth. More important, mayors can recruit employers, civic leaders, and educators to actively support college and career readiness initiatives.
Click here for more information about the National Education Pathways With a Purpose program.