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Opinion

Assets for Keeping Young People in School

Jonathan Zaff Executive Director

Today, the Center for Promise – the research institute of America’s Promise Alliance, housed at Boston University’s School of Education – released a new brief, The Building Blocks of a GradNation: Assets for Keeping Young People in School.

Much has been written about what causes students to leave high school before graduating. Adverse life experiences – like homelessness, parental incarceration, repeat suspensions, being a teen parent, taking drugs – have been found time and again to predict leaving school.

What is less discussed is the set of factors in a young person’s life that promote graduation from high school, what our colleagues at the Search Institute call “developmental assets.”

Taking a Positive Youth Development approach (which recognizes the assets of youth and their communities) and leveraging our learnings from Don’t Call Them Dropouts, we reviewed literature from the past 25 years to understand if certain assets in a young person’s life can promote graduation or, at least, continued enrollment in school. We found evidence for 10 assets that met our stringent criteria (click here to read more about our methodology).

The 10 assets that emerged through our analysis include:

Individual Assets

  • Expectations for academic attainment or achievement
  • Intrinsic academic motivation or personal desire to achieve
  • School engagement
  • Internal locus of control – a sense of control over ones’ future

Family Assets

  • Parent academic involvement
  • Parent-adolescent connection

Peer Assets

  • Peer academic norms or how peers achieve academically

School Assets

  • Positive student-teacher relationships
  • Extra-curricular activities

Community Assets

  • Out-of-school time programs

These findings suggest there are upstream levers that policy and practice can pull to potentially impact the downstream outcome of educational attainment. That is, we can make interventions that directly effect a young person’s likelihood of staying in school and graduating.

When considering the best use of limited dollars, we should consider investing in programs that include and maximize these 10 assets.

When considering the best use of limited dollars, we should consider investing in programs that include and maximize these 10 assets. We see examples of such initiatives in school-based and afterschool programs, particularly those that have focused on building the social and emotional learning competencies of youth. The benefits of such programs have been shown to outstrip costs. Although more research on existing programs and development of new programs that focus on these assets will further inform policymakers and practitioners, the findings from our study provide guidance on the elements within programs that deserve more attention and investment.