Research

Below are brief summaries of demographics and outcomes from YouthBuild programs, plus key external studies conducted on YouthBuild programs since 1996.

Outcomes and Demographics 

Demographics 

Demographics of YouthBuild students in the United States, based on data submitted to YouthBuild USA:
• 100% are low-income.
• 93% enter without a diploma.
• 71% are men; 29% are women.
• 53% are African American; 22% are Latino(a); 20% are White;
3% are Native American; 2% are Asian American.
• 39% have received public assistance.
• 33% are court-involved.
• 26% are parents.

Outcomes

In the United States, based on data submitted to YouthBuild USA:
• 71% of enrollees completed the program.
• 71% of enrollees obtained their GEDs/high school diplomas, industry-recognized credentials, or both.
• 51% of enrollees went on to postsecondary education or jobs averaging $9.24 an hour.
• 79% of those placed retained their placements for at least six months.
• Recidivism rates within one year of enrollment for court-involved YouthBuild students averaged 13%.

Synopses of Key Research on YouthBuild (in chronological order)

Qualitative Studies

Ronald F. Ferguson et al., YouthBuild in development perspective: A formative evaluation of the YouthBuild demonstration. Department of Urban Studies and Planning, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 1996. 

This study, a qualitative and quantitative analysis, examined the first five demonstration sites for two full cycles. It included pre and post interviews of over 60 students. Comparison with other nationally known youth programs including Job Corps showed that YouthBuild had the highest level of GED achievement. The study defined the observable stages of personal development that students went through to change their identity and relationship to society. It also defined the key elements of the top performing sites correlated with high outcomes. These elements included: 1) attention and support from the sponsoring agency; 2) excellent leadership at the program level; 3) fidelity to the YouthBuild philosophy and program design; 4) sufficient flexible funding to address issues as they arose without bureaucratic obstacles; 5) control by the sponsoring organization over the construction sites and housing development; 6) excellent training and technical assistance; and 7) a cohesive, caring, and competent staff.

Anne Wright, The YouthBuild Welfare-to-Work Program: Its Outcomes and Policy Implications. YouthBuild USA, 2001.
This is a study of a three-year grant funded by DOL run from 1998 to 2001 by YouthBuild USA at ten programs. The outcomes of the YouthBuild Welfare-to-Work (WtW) program were higher than those of other WtW programs recruiting under the same eligibility regulations, with 50 percent of all trainees being placed in a job at the end of the program, compared to 44 percent of other WtW program enrollees. YouthBuild graduates earned an average of $7.91 an hour in their first job placement (in 2001), compared to $6.81 an hour for other WtW program participants.

Andrew Hahn, Thomas D. Leavitt, and Erin Horvat. Life After YouthBuild: 900 YouthBuild Graduates Reflect on Their Lives, Dreams, and Experiences. Heller School at Brandeis University, 2004.
This study combined a 15-page survey of 900 graduates from over 30 programs and in-depth interviews with a cross-section of 57 randomly selected graduates at eight programs. Both the survey and the interview results showed that YouthBuild graduates are highly positive about their program experiences, appreciating both the family-like environment and the high expectations of the staff. The survey results showed that 75 percent of these graduates were either in postsecondary education or in jobs averaging $10 an hour; 91% of graduates rated their YouthBuild experience highly; 85% were still involved in community activities; and a high percentage were successful and free of government supports using a variety of indicators. Many graduates also expressed a need for more assistance with personal or career-related issues after graduation.

Wally Abrazaldo et al, Evaluation of the YouthBuild Youth Offender Grants. Social Policy Research Associates, 2009.
DOL selected YouthBuild USA to participate in its Incarcerated Youth Offender Program, granting $18.2 million over three years to YouthBuild USA for 34 local YouthBuild programs enrolling over 1200 youth. Outcomes exceeded all but one of the short-term targets, including enrollment, completion, GED/HSD attainment, placement, wages, and recidivism. DOL engaged Social Policy Research Associates (SPRA) to do a thorough qualitative study of the program in its third year. The evaluation assessed recruitment and enrollment, educational services, vocational training, case management and retention, and youth leadership and community service.

The study found that all the programs adhered to the basic YouthBuild program design and philosophy, and beyond that the higher performing programs shared certain characteristics: they were usually part of a larger sponsoring agency in which leadership treated YouthBuild as a priority, had a lower student-to-staff ratio, offered their GED preparation or high school classes onsite with teachers from similar backgrounds as the students, effectively linked vocational training to academic instruction, offered industry recognized certifications, had a youth policy council to advise the director, and offered both housing rehabilitation and new construction. It found that the intensity of partnerships with other local agencies did not correlate with higher outcomes. It was more important to have a cohesive internal program community.
 

Andy Hahn and Tom Leavitt. The Efficacy of Education Awards in YouthBuild AmeriCorps Programs. Center for Youth and Communities, Heller School for Social Policy and Management, Brandeis University, 2007
This report looks at the degree to which AmeriCorps Education Awards affect involvement in postsecondary education-related activities, utilizing comparisons between YouthBuild AmeriCorps and other YouthBuild completers. The analysis showed that (1) program completers at YouthBuild AmeriCorps programs were more likely than completers at non-AmeriCorps YouthBuild programs to have applied to and been accepted to postsecondary education or training institutions, and to be preparing for a variety of postsecondary educational options, and (2) within the YouthBuild AmeriCorps respondent population, those who actually earned an AmeriCorps Education Award were more likely to apply to, be accepted to, and be enrolled in post-secondary institutions than those who did not earn an AmeriCorps Education Award. Effects were particularly strong among black men.

Michael Midling and Jillianne Leufgen. An Analysis of GED Attainment at YouthBuild AmeriCorps Programs. Social Policy Research, 2010. The researchers studied 31 YouthBuild AmeriCorps programs. They analyzed GED attainment in relation to program practices and demographics of students served, and conducted surveys of students and staff, as well as in-depth interviews in five programs. They concluded that the students were “overwhelmingly positive” about their experiences in YouthBuild, expressing that both the teachers and other staff “cared about them as individuals” and “did whatever necessary to help them reach their educational goals.” Various educational practices correlated with higher GED outcomes: higher teacher to student ratios; offering high school diplomas as well as GED’s and thereby enriching the curriculum; managing the educational program internally rather than outsourcing it to a partner organization; alternating academic and on-site hours frequently – no less frequently than every other week; and using mixed teaching styles including individual tutoring and group teacher presentations. They found that screening out students based on academic proficiency did not correlate with higher GED achievement. One observation that surprised the researchers was that previously incarcerated students were three times more likely to achieve their GED. They hypothesized possible higher motivation but recommended further exploration of why this was so.

Peter Levine. Pathways into Leadership: A Study of YouthBuild Graduates. CIRCLE, Tufts University, 2012.
This report studied YouthBuild students who had participated in YouthBuild USA’s pathways into civic leadership and found them to be extraordinarily effective. Young people who faced enormous challenges at entry to YouthBuild and barely expected to live to age 25 changed their trajectory, internalized the skills and values to become committed civic leaders, with many becoming non-profit professionals, pastors, and even elected officials.  

Kathleen A. Tomberg. Youth Development Through Service: A Quality Assessment of the YouthBuild AmeriCorps Program. Research and Evaluation Center, John Jay College of Criminal Justice, City University of New York. 2013.
This study assessed YouthBuild AmeriCorps’ model of service engagement. It included a pre-and post-test survey that measured changes in attitudes and connection with the community. Its summary stated that “Over the course of their participation in the YouthBuild AmeriCorps program, students develop a closer connection with their communities, a stronger commitment to service, an enhanced sense of personal worth and reliability, and greater trust in authority and social institutions. Many of these young people have deep mistrust in societal institutions, are disconnected from their communities, have been aggressive in the past, and experience a variety of negative influences in their lives. YouthBuild AmeriCorps is a successful model for changing these previously disconnected young people’s self-concept and their connection to the community and adults in authority.”

Creating New Pathways to Postsecondary: Evaluation of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s Postsecondary Success (PSS) Initiative. Brandeis University, Heller School for Social Policy and Management. December, 2013.
This study describes the performance of affiliates of YouthBuild USA and the National Youth Employment Coalition in a demonstration effort to connect low-income youth to pathways into and through postsecondary education. Three major findings emerged: “1. The Initiative was successful in promoting the establishment of new working partnerships between community colleges and local community-based organizations and the creation of new pathways into and through higher education in all of the sites. 2. Among the community-based organizations, the Initiative led to the creation of a new college-going culture and the integration of enriched academic preparation, bridge programming, and postsecondary support strategies aimed at preparing youth for and supporting them in postsecondary education. 3. The participating community colleges, in turn, built new and often rich relationships with their CBO partners and incorporated new practices that ranged from improved access to college admissions and advising staff to development of new college transition programs, collaborative case management efforts, and establishment of college courses within the CBO setting.” The report recommends that “these types of partnerships should be supported and encouraged.”

Cost-Benefit Studies

Mark Cohen PhD, and Alex Piquero, PhD, Costs and Benefits of a Targeted Intervention Program for Youthful Offenders: The YouthBuild USA Offender Project. 2008.
This is a cost-benefit analysis of YouthBuild USA’s targeted intervention program aimed at youthful offenders using data on 388 offenders at 34 local programs following them three years after enrollment. The authors found (1) evidence of reduced recidivism and improved education outcomes, and (2) a positive benefit-to-cost ratio, with every dollar spent on every youth estimated to produce a social return on investment of at least $7.80, with benefits to society ranging between $134,000 and $536,000 per participant at a cost to society of about $12,500 (training stipends to students are excluded from this $12,500 because they were connected to producing affordable housing.) (The methodology in this study was informally questioned by other researchers in 2013, although no different conclusions were offered. Thus YouthBuild USA is seeking resources to update and create a new cost benefit analysis including a stronger comparison group.)

Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development, Minnesota YouthBuild Program: A Measurement of Costs and Benefits to the State of Minnesota, revised 2003.
This study measures the benefits of increased earnings, state taxes paid by participants on these earnings, and reduced state prison costs of participants with a prior offense. It focuses on the YouthBuild programs funded by the State of Minnesota. The study finds that each new group of youth trained in the Minnesota YouthBuild program produces approximately $350,000 per year in additional state tax revenues and $1.2 million in state prison cost savings in the first year after finishing the program. This translates into approximately $1.5 million in direct benefits in the first year after a participant cohort exits the program, compared to the state’s cost of $877,000 per year.