Comprehensive Coaching for At-Risk High School Students


  • Northeastern School Districts, Northeast Region

Focus Area

  • Education

“This curriculum is founded on the fundamental belief that lifelong success must integrate home, school, work, and community life.”

Program provider

The Issue

High school graduation rates are at an all-time high. In 2019, 87% of American high schoolers earned their diplomas. This is encouraging. But low-income and minority students still lag behind. And because these students are more likely to live in historically disinvested neighborhoods, they are more likely to attend under-resourced schools. These schools can’t provide the resources or support students’ needs to achieve academically or pursue sustainable careers after graduation. 

High schools are a springboard for youth, often providing the guidance they need when making their college decisions and discerning next steps. But the lack of support and opportunity available in under-resourced schools greatly impacts the futures of their students. It contributes to the national gaps in high school and college completion, where students from such schools are less likely to graduate from high school and college than their peers. 

And these gaps are huge. The National Center for Education Statistics found that 85% of American students graduated from high school during the 2016-17 school year. But demographically, only 80% of Hispanic students, 78% of Black students, and 72% of Native American students finished high school. Compare this with 89% of white students. 

This gap only grows in college. A 2019 report from the National Student Clearinghouse found that 58% of students from schools with a high proportion of minority students enrolled in college, compared with 69% of students from schools with fewer minority students. Likewise, only 55% of students from under-resourced high schools will enroll in college, while 69% of students from well-resourced schools will. Rates of college persistence and completion are also lower for students from low-income, high-minority schools. Gaps in high school and college completion become gaps in earnings, employment, and social outcomes.

When low-income students do enroll in college, they are more likely to choose undercapitalized institutions whose degrees don’t carry the same weight as other universities. And earning a quality, accredited college education has important benefits. In 2018, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that students who graduate from high school earn $192 more per week than those who don’t, or an annual gain of about $10,000 for high school graduates. For students who graduate from college, this gain is $19,350. 

Research also shows that students who graduate from high school and college have better health and land more stable, meaningful careers. They’re also less likely to engage in crime and fall into poverty, meaning their kids will have better opportunities, too. 

Programs that help young people complete their high school educations and embark on successful college careers will help ensure brighter futures for generations. They’ll help break the cycle. 

The Intervention

Two large, urban school districts in the Northeastern United States have implemented a mentorship and counseling program for at-risk high school students. Those eligible to participate are typically from historically disinvested communities and under-resourced schools, and the program is designed to help them overcome barriers to their academic success. 

Students enroll during the 9th grade and are expected to participate for all four years of high school. The program engages students and their families by offering wraparound support services like tutoring, coaching and mentoring, life skills training, job preparation, and college advising. Students also have the option to participate in summer programming opportunities. 

By providing these supports, this program works to improve the performance of students in core classes as well as to decrease risky behaviors and foster respect, cooperation, and engagement in the local school environment. The curriculum is founded on the fundamental belief that lifelong success must integrate home, school, work, and community life.

Research Question

Does providing wraparound mentorship, academic support, and job training for low-income high school students increase the likelihood they will graduate from high school? Does it increase the likelihood they will enroll in college or begin sustainable post-secondary careers?

Intended Outcomes

  • Students who are offered this program will be more likely to graduate from high school than those who are not. They will also be more likely to enroll in college and earn a college degree. 
  • Students who are offered the program will have better academic and behavioral outcomes than their peers.
  • Students who are offered the program will also be more likely to find and maintain sustainable, high-wage careers.

Research Study Design

This study is a randomized controlled trial. To be eligible to participate in the program, students must exhibit two of the following risk factors: they must be low-income (meaning they qualify for a free or reduced-price lunch), have between 71% and 85% school attendance, have fallen behind 1 or 2 grade levels, have failing grades in 2 or more core subjects, score below the 60th percentile on any national standardized test, have 2 or more out-of-school suspensions, or have a low predicted propensity to graduate. 

Using student level data from the school districts, the research team identified all eligible students. For each participating school, the eligible students were randomly sorted and placed onto a wait list. Program managers then contacted students to invite them to participate in the program in order according to these lists. 

Due to limited resources and available openings, not all students were invited into the program. The treatment group includes all students who were offered the program, while the control includes all the students who were not offered the program because they were further down the list. LEO researchers will compare the education and employment outcomes of students across the treatment and control groups.

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