How Nonprofits are Bridging the Gap Between High School and College

ABOUT THIS EPISODE

Mollie Waller, Executive Director at Youth Solutions joins the podcast to discuss their Jobs of Michigan’s Graduates (JMG) program and the high-touch, high-time requirement for successful student mentorships that truly make an impact on retention and graduation.

You're listening to enrollment growth university from Helix Education, the best professional development podcast for higher education leaders looking to grow enrollment at their college or university. Whether you're looking for fresh enrollment growth techniques and strategies or tools and resources, you've come to the right place. Let's get into the show. Welcome back to enrollment growth university, a proud member of the connect Edu podcast network. I'm Eric Olson with Helix Education and we're here today with Molly Waller, executive director at youth solutions. Molly, welcome to the show. Thanks, Sarah. Thanks for having me. So excited to have you and to talk with you today about helping our students bridge the gap between High School and College. But before we dig in, can you get the listeners a little background on both youth solutions and your role there? I would be happy to you. Solutions is a five hundred, one, c three organization that serves at risk you across the entire state of Michigan. We have served collectively in our history over twenty twozero young people who have significant barriers to education and employment success. When we say who we are and what we do, it's really around inspiring our young people to realize dream and have a plan to achieve a future beyond imagination. We operate over a hundred programs around the state on an annual basis, headquartered in gorgeous southwest Michigan, and it really is a wonderful opportunity to help bridge that gap between High School and college and have young people not just college ready, but have them knowing what they want their career to be. And My background is a mix of for profit and non for profit and I've been with you solutions for a little over three and a half years now and I absolutely love what I do, love that you do, love the mission that you are serving and I'm so grateful to get to dive in with on this...

...with you today. So, to kick us off, Molly, how prepared do you believe the average high school senior is today to make a thoughtful, value driven career focus to college decision? You Know Eric it's senior year is where people are starting their journey. That's not soon enough. What we've learned over the years is starting in high school, even as early as freshman year, sometimes isn't enough time to be well prepared for a thoughtful, high value decision. And there's also a reality that college isn't for every single young person. So what we offer is a continuum of services where we are starting to work as early as middle school to give youth an opportunity to learn about different careers. You tend to get exposed to what you know growing up. Well, there's a whole world of careers beyond that in high demand industries here in Michigan, and so what we do is we work with you to introduce them to a range of careers, a range of industries and help them match their skill sets and their interests with available job opportunities. These years of preparation give them that needed time to say, Oh, I don't think I like this, I'm going to pivot. I still like biology and science, but I don't want to be a doctor. I think for me maybe this healthcare setting is better. That's the importance of starting earlier. Now, when you are a high school senior, how prepared is the typical high school senior? I think there's a range. There certainly are some folks who are ready to go. They've been looking forward to it. I think some are unready. If you look at our population, who come to us with an average of six economic, environmental and social barriers. Maybe they don't have a strong support system at home. Maybe their first generation college student. Those are just some of the barriers. Maybe their low income, they're less prepared, and so that's who we focus on, helping them move through their secondary education and be prepared...

...for a two year or four year college or maybe to go into a trade program where they can get a certificate and credential and eventually become a journeyman. So it's really about not necessarily how prepared the senior is. How early do you have to start to make sure each young person is prepared? Molly, let's dig into some of these initiatives today and how they're designed to serve students. Give us a I lovel overview on the jobs of Michigan's graduates program, JMG, and how that initiative serve students today. The way jobs for Michigan's graduates, or JMG as we call it, serves students is through that continuum of services as early as Middle School through twelve months post graduation. What we've seen is the persistence in education drops off during the freshman year. is typically a new time of life, a new environment, new struggles unexpected challelenges, and so we stay with the young person through those twelve months after high school to help them with that transition and continue to persist on the early end. We help them with career development as early as middle school. JAMG is the Michigan affiliate of jobs for America's graduates. Jobs are America's graduates is a forty two year old organization that is one of the most successful school to work transition programs or at risk youth in the nation. We use solutions have been around since two thousand and eight working here in the state of Michigan, and the JMG program is unique in a couple of ways. The first one is we have both in school and out of school models to help address youth who maybe are great in and in school environment but need some additional help, youth who do not succeed in a traditional high school environment, maybe they need an alternative model, as well as those who have left the edguction cation system but still...

...want to work towards their ged we have all three models to help make sure we capture and serve as many youth as possible, because their ultimate goal, of course, is to break that cycle of poverty with sometimes that incorporates limited education. We know that upwards a fifty percent of the youth that we serve our potential first generation college students. Sometimes it's as much as seventy, five or eighty percent. So the services to help them learn what to ask, ask the questions, develop the career interest and, most importantly, we focus at JMG and at Jag on the skills you need to be successful in the workforce, regardless of the career. Responsibility, accountability, showing up on time, taking value in your work, respecting others, teamwork. Those are the services we really focus on and what we do is we create a sense of purpose and belonging for the young people. A lot of our youth come to us without any role models. Our teacher, who we call a specialist, is the one who is that positive role model to the young person. Another thing that makes us unique is if you're in our multi year in school program you will receive up to a hundred and twenty contact hours with your specialist teacher each year. A lot of other youth programs aren't set up to be that deep. There's a lot of great youth programs. This one just is slightly different because of the intensity and what it gives us is ninety plus percent graduation rates. Eighty five percent go on to either college direct to employability with a trade school to get us credential, or to the military. So Jang overall serves students to help them on their education to workforce journey. We also have a service that we have rolled out here in Michigan that's in a pilot and it's called you solutions select. So if you look at any school in Michigan or anywhere in the nation, there's a range of needs for the young people...

...at that school. Some need very little career services, some need very intensive. What we're doing is we're working with schools and school districts to embed a culture of career development into the young people. What this means is the entire time you are in your environment at high school, whether it's traditional or non traditional, you're learning about careers. You're incorporating career learning into regular academics and so project based learning is real big for us, but we have found that it engages the youth, it keeps them engaged. For example, you put a sheet of paper in front of someone and you have all your monthly expenses of rent, car payment, cable, going out everything and you give them thirty tokens and you say okay, each token is five hundred dollars. How would you do your monthly bill? Very quickly they realize, oh, I don't think I can shopolate diet hoped or Dang it, that smoothie every day might have to go, or I can't cover my rent. That's a project base learning, but the impact it has a significant through why I select we are embedding that culture of career development throughout the entire school and working with the schools. The other point I'd love to make here on the high level overview is in serving students. There is a big shift pre covid postcovid. There were trends their pre covid that are expansive now in terms of youth have disconnected from education and employment. There are less people in the workforce. Everyone is short talent. You go to any restaurant, any anywhere, you see we're hiring signs. Okay. What is it that we need to do to help address that? We need to help encourage you to see that there's a range of careers and that there are benefits to learning about a range of careers. We help that longer term pipeline for employers. But what we have is youth that are then ready to go into a career and it won't be an employer...

...spends all this money to recruit someone, the person doesn't work out and there back to square one. They spend money to recruit a youth. The youth is work ready. They keep these I love how you reference the intensity of the model as your differentiation. I think that's what struck me, is the scale of the modeling and the mentorship required to, as you mentioned, move a needle so dramatically. It takes a lot of dramatic work. Walk a through the mentorship program from a sequence perspective, in terms of that timeline and the length of that relationship, maybe specifically from the perspective of the high school students, when that relationship starts, how long it goes, how intense it is. This is a wonderful question. I want to answer this one by telling some stories, because that will really bring it to life. The jets for Michigan's graduates program, the specialist or the teacher is the person that works with that youth on an individual basis. Mentorship is one of several services that they provide. The very first time a youth meet to specialist might be while they're considering joining jobs for Michigan's graduates in schools. Jobs for Michigan's graduates can be a course for elected credit. So a youth meets with a specialist decides yes, I want to give jobs from Michigan's graduates to try. They then will work with that specialist. If it's in school five days a week, regular class schedule on the various skill development to be work and career ready. Within that project based learning is big or hands on learning, exposing people to different careers and now more than ever, trauma informed care. Many of our youth come to us with an average of six barriers to education and employment success. Economic Barriers, environmental barriers. They come with a lot of trauma. We work with them to help identify and overcome that trauma to give them an added tool in their toolbox to handle life as they go on. All these...

...are done together in a very comprehensive set of services to prepare them for what's next after high school. Share a couple quick stories with you. When the COVID pandemic was at its peak, some of our specialists were working with their youth to identify emergency housing, emergency food, emergency medical care. As a pandemic continued and virtual learning was the new norm. A lot of our youth struggled. They have felt the loss of that sense of purpose and connection that they had in the classroom at amg and so someone reach out to their specialist at two am, three am, that specialists would talk to that young person because that was that what that one. That specialist would talk to that young person because it was when that young person was ready. That's the kind of dedication that our specialists have. In jobster Michigan's graduates. You can count up service hours, but it's hard to put a value on taking a phone call at two am. The value of that is is much higher. As the youth moves through their high school journey with their specialist, they advanced in the services so that when they graduate they have a plan for what's next. Is it military? Is it a direct to employment? Is that they two year school? Is it a four year school? Is it a vocational school? And then for the twelve months after graduation, the specialist stays with the young person, checking in on a monthly basis to provide additional services and help them with that transition. Transition from high school to what's next is a different time in a young person's life. There's a lot of new experiences and new stresses that come with it, and so the specialist is there. All together. That makes the relationship very deep and meaningful and oftentimes the young people come back to visit their specialist after the twelve months and stay in touch and be connected with them for life. It's also a great way that we recruit. One successful JMG youth might tell their siblings or their relatives about the benefits of the...

...program and then more young people get these services. Molly, I love those stories and they just career reminder of how relational this work is. Molly win, nonprofits step in, it's usually because they've seen a gap in this system that they don't see focus on. They see kids, in this case, falling to the cracks they want help solve for it. What do you wish the colleges would do, could do better, so that you wouldn't have to solve for all of this on your own? You know, when you look at high school and Kay twelve versus college, they're really two separate things and historically groups of focused on one or the other. There's a ton of phenomenal work going on in each of those sectors. There's also work going on more and more about that bridge, and you mentioned it at the beginning. It's that bridge from high school to College. Bridges are being built, but they we need a little more structure to help young people make the transition. Exploring your majors one part of college preparation. Understanding what you're good at is a whole another one, and then seeing this is what I'm good at, and exposure to a range of careers that need those skills. That can really be the game changer, the eye opener to the young person. There's we've talked before, there's different expectations, circumstances, intimidating phase of life. You need to help make that transition as easy as possible and a lot of that comes down to social emotional skill during that adjustment. So we focus a lot on the social emotional learning to help them understand how to address these new stressors, this new phase of life. This bridge really is getting a ton of focus from a lot of good organizations and I think what makes you solutions unique in here in Michigan is. We offer both jobs from Michigan's graduates, which is...

...our more intensive program, and we offer you solution select, which gives career development services to the entire school. A lot of the you a lot of the you solution select. Young people may move into jobs Michigan's graduates if they need those additional services, but the bridge that it's building is for those kids who need some services but nothing as intensive as jobs from Michigan's graduates. That's the bridge that we're helping to build. But it's all around in support of career development and success. Get Your ged, get your diploma, be ready for its next molly amazing stuff. Finally, leave us with some next steps advice. PRI institutions listening. They want to better connect the dots. They want to help bridge this gap between high school and a career plan for their students. How should they think about that challenge? Who should they partner with? So, for institutions looking to better connect the dots between high school and Career Planning, you solutions is certainly one organization that is operating in this space and we encourage people to reach out to us through our website at www dots dot org. We also are very good partners with mcm, Michigan College access network. They are another group that is doing a lot of great work in this area. Between High School and career. Here in Michigan, the governor has a program that sixty percent of adults in Michigan will have either a two or four year degree or a credential of value by the year two thousand and thirty. That is a supported idea by M can. It definitely is supportive in what we do here at you solution and is supported by what we need to do in order to address some of the short falls that we're seeing in the talent pipeline. It's not a tomorrow answer, but it's a longer term answer. I also encourage people looking to connect at the dots to get in...

...touch and talk to the students. The challenges are going to be varied, but the ability to provide career development, trauma informed care and hands on learning or project based learning, those three things together really are what we see as making a difference. I mentioned earlier we have a ninety plus percent graduation rate. That is on average, ten to twelve percentage points higher than the state of Michigan Average graduation rate. Contact us to learn more about JMG and you solution select. Mcn Is another great partner, and then look within your district what other programs are being offered. There's a lot of other community based organizations that are focused on this, and so there's a lot of things going on in the community. What's going to work best for your community? Give us the call. Will try and help you figure that out and also see who else is already in your area. Molly, thank you so much for your time today. What's the best place for listeners to reach out if they have any follow up questions? Yeah, for up to follow up, I encourage everyone to visit our website at www dot our use solutions dot org, or you can visit us on social on facebook, instagram and twitter, and we're also on Linkedin. Awesome, Molly, thanks so much for joining us today. Eric. Thank you for the opportunity to talk to folks and for bringing attention to this very needed bridge between high school and College. Attracting today's new post traditional learners means adopting new enrollment strategies helix educations. Data driven enterprise wide approach to enrollment growth is uniquely helping colleges and universities thrive in this new education landscape, and Helix has just published the second edition of their enrollment growth playbook with fifty percent brand new content on how institutions can solve today's most pressing enrollment growth challenges. Downloaded today for free at Helix Educationcom Sash playbook. You've been listening to enrollment growth university from Helix Education. To ensure that you never miss...

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