Welcome to our blog! We’re glad you found your way here. At Oakmont Education, we are deeply passionate about re-engaging opportunity youth and the ways that changing the lives of these individuals can also impact communities at large. Our intention is to use this blog space to share our insights regarding opportunity youth, the challenges they face, innovative dropout recovery solutions, and our organization’s personal experience with addressing these critical issues. Let’s start the conversation by tackling some of the most basic yet essential questions:
What does the term “opportunity youth” mean?
The short answer is that “opportunity youth” refers to individuals between the ages of 16 and 24 who are not actively enrolled in school or employed. There are approximately 4.6 million opportunity youth – one in nine members of this age group – in the U.S. today. And, according to Jobs for the Future, an organization that focuses on strengthening the American workforce and education systems, nearly 40 percent of people between the ages of 16 and 24 are weakly attached or unattached to school or work at some point. This idea of weak attachments indicates that there are many individuals who are on the cusp and could benefit from the same interventions and support given to opportunity youth.
- Living at or below the poverty level
- Coming from a single- or no-parent home
- Having incarcerated parents or guardians
- Having a prior criminal record of their own
- Being a teen parent
- Having a physical or cognitive disability
What’s in a name?
There are other terms in use for the group of people who fall into the “opportunity youth” definition. This group of 16- to 24-year-olds who are not enrolled in school or participating in the labor market has also been called “disengaged youth,” “disconnected youth,” or “idle youth.” While these terms are all in use in various professional circles, we at Oakmont prefer and strongly recommend the term “opportunity youth.” Language matters, and using positive, empowering words rather than negative, shaming words is vital to creating a sense of welcoming, safety and encouragement.
What’s the impact in the community?
What happens to opportunity youth if no one intervenes? Research shows that only 1 percent will earn an associates degree or higher, compared to 36 percent of the general population. Without the ability to earn a sustainable living wage, the current population of opportunity youth is projected to cost as much as $6.3 trillion in tax dollars over their lifetime. Aside from financial cost, students who drop out of high school also negatively affect their community’s public school graduation rates, state report card scores and overall perception.
Interested in hearing directly from opportunity youth?
In 2012, the Aspen Institute Forum for Community Solutions, a nonprofit dedicated to empowering those with the least access to opportunity, launched the Opportunity Youth Forum. This network consists of more than two dozen urban, rural and tribal communities that are working together to build multiple reconnection pathways to re-engage opportunity youth. You can read some individual student profiles here.
We’re thrilled so many people are starting to talk about opportunity youth, and we hope you check back here soon for more from our leadership team on these important issues that affect everyone.