Urban Alliance internship program improves job skills and college attendance for disadvantaged youth


Lashaunta Davis, 17, applauds members of her fellow graduating class where FLOTUS Michelle Obama gave the commencement speech at the graduation of Anacostia High School on June 11, 2010, in Washington, DC. Photo by Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post via Getty Images

Although more people are attending college now than in the past, many youth from disadvantaged backgrounds still do not enroll in or complete any postsecondary education. Eighty percent of recent high school graduates from high-income families enroll in college, compared with 49 percent of recent graduates from low-income families. The discrepancy grows when looking at college graduation rates. These gaps have dire consequences for disadvantaged youth—on average, a person with a bachelor’s degree will earn about two-thirds more over his or her working life than a high school graduate.

Programs that help disadvantaged youth go to college and embark on a path toward career success are critical. The Urban Alliance High School Internship Program is one such program. It serves high school seniors, most of whom have mid-range GPAs (2.0 to 3.0), who live in distressed communities in DC, Baltimore, northern Virginia, and Chicago. These students are likely to graduate from high school, but without support, they may not go on to college or stable careers. Urban Alliance offers them a paid internship in an office setting, soft and hard skills job training, coaching and mentoring provided by Urban Alliance staff and internship mentors, and alumni services.

According to survey results from our recent evaluation of the DC and Baltimore sites, youth offered the Urban Alliance program (of whom 78 percent actually participated) rated their job skills higher than a control group of youth not given the chance to participate. These job skills include hard skills (general office work) and soft skills (e.g., writing professional e-mails, making a presentation, completing work on time).

The program also had an important effect on college attendance for young men, according to National Student Clearinghouse data. Young men offered the program were 11 percentage points more likely to attend college than their control group counterparts and were 12 percentage points more likely to attend a four-year college. Among youth with mid-range GPAs, those offered the program were also more likely to attend a four-year college than the control group (by 12 percentage points).

These improvements in job skills and the increase in college attendance among certain subgroups suggest more positive career trajectories are likely for participants. A growing body of literature has demonstrated the value of hard and soft skills for employment success. And in today’s job market, a college degree is more important than ever for gaining access to well-paying jobs.

In our final report for this evaluation, to be released in 2017, we’ll see if these effects on job skills and college attendance persist.