Evaluating LEAP’s Early Years

Posted September 14, 2019, By the Annie E. Casey Foundation

MDRC recently released an evaluation of how LEAP partners implemented programs to help young people connect to work and school

In 2015, the Annie E. Casey Foundation and the Corporation for National and Community Service launched the first phase of Learn and Earn to Achieve Potential (LEAP)™ — an ambitious, multimillion-dollar initiative to boost employment and educational opportunities for young people ages 15 to 25 who’ve experienced homelessness or been involved in public systems.


The effort has been driven by 10 local partnerships in eight states, which have used two proven models — Jobs for America’s Graduates (JAG) and JFF’s Back on Track — to help these youth succeed in school and at work.

A new study from nonprofit research firm MDRC evaluates the partnerships’ early implementation of these models, including ways they’ve recruited and retained youth, developed cross-system partnerships and integrated wraparound services to create pathways to opportunity.

“Our goal with LEAP has always been to adapt established strategies in ways that meet the unique challenges young people who are out of school and out of work face and that build on their immense talents and skills,” says Patrice Cromwell, Casey’s director of youth economic opportunity. “This evaluation is an important step in that direction because it highlights what core strengths we should be building upon in the next phase and what areas we may still need to explore or improve.”

In its analysis of enrollment, implementation, early outcomes and cost, MDRC found that:

  • LEAP sites enrolled nearly 2,800 young people during their first three years. Among that group, more than 80% are youth of color; 51% have been involved in foster care; 37% have been involved in the justice system; and 50% have experienced homelessness.
  • Many of these young people have faced barriers that constrained their potential and made it hard to succeed in traditional education and employment programs. These obstacles included limited family support, housing instability and trauma.
  • Nearly 70% of Back on Track participants — a majority of whom had a high school diploma and previous work experience prior to enrollment — progressed into a postsecondary education or job-training program. Forty percent of these young people already completed their first year.
  • Among young people who completed JAG’s “Active Phase” — during which the majority of services are delivered — 40% earned a high school credential. And of that group, 76% were either employed or in school at some point during the following six months.
  • Cross-sector partnerships are essential for aligning resources, recruiting eligible young people and connecting them with the services and support they need to succeed.
  • One-on-one learning opportunities, flexible scheduling, “pause” options and other targeted support can help keep young people engaged in services when facing unexpected life challenges.
  • The costs of providing LEAP services, including outreach and follow-up activities, range from $5,300 to $7,300 per participant, depending on program structure and local context.

“We’re encouraged by the ways LEAP sites are adapting JAG and Back on Track to help youth meet their postsecondary and employment goals,” says Louisa Treskon, a research associate at MDRC and one of the report’s authors. “We want to continue helping partners identify and promote promising strategies that garner positive outcomes and use evidence to spur broader take-up among other youth-serving systems.”

As LEAP enters its next phase, a new partner has joined the network: NMCAN in Albuquerque, New Mexico. LEAP now operates in 11 sites in 55 cities and nine states and includes a growing network of funders and four national organizations: Jobs for America’s Graduates, JFF, MDRC and School & Main Institute.

“Casey and our partners are eager to build on what we’ve learned to cultivate additional relationships with public systems and position LEAP as a scalable solution for reconnecting youth with educational and employment opportunities,” says Cromwell. “In the years ahead, we will deepen our focus on racial equity and continue helping young people expand their future opportunities while advocating for — and meeting — their immediate needs.”


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