Evidence in Action: Forging a New Path: Using Pay for Success to Build Career Pathways for Underserved, High-Need Youth

Thanks to the persistence of social entrepreneurs across the country, every day we see strategies that are working and delivering results in a rapidly changing world. This Evidence in Action blog series highlights the voices of the more than 70 social innovation organizations that make up the America Forward Coalition, the results-driven solutions our community has to our country’s most pressing social problems, and the evidence-based federal programs that are critical to scaling the impact of this work. 

Today, America Forward Coalition organization Social Finance shares its post, Forging a New Path: Using Pay for Success to Build Career Pathways for Underserved, High-Need Youth, about the potential of scaling high-quality Career and Technical Education programs using Pay for Success. This post was originally published on the Jobs for the Future blog on June 26, 2017.


Well-paying jobs and career opportunities are increasingly hard to find without a postsecondary degree or industry-recognized credential. Yet many young people, especially students of color and those from low-income families, lack access to educational opportunities that can prepare them for these jobs. In one study in Chicago, more than 40% of black males ages 20-24 were out of school and not working, compared to only 8.5% of white males. On the other side of the equation, employers are increasingly concerned by the limited number of young adults who are prepared to succeed in the workforce.

Communities are increasingly looking to high-quality career and technical education (CTE) to meet employers’ needs and improve economic opportunities for youth. Rigorous academic and technical programs can ensure that all students––including those that are low-income and youth of color––develop the skills and knowledge to succeed in college and career. Programs that coordinate with employers can ensure that there is a stronger pipeline of job-ready individuals, as well as employment opportunities waiting for youth when they graduate.

In recent years, many programs have focused on measuring what works for students and employers in their communities and are poised to scale their programs. An innovative public-private-partnership may be the right tool to do it. Pay for Success leverages private capital to scale social services that have strong evidence of improving outcomes. Entities that value those improved outcomes – often government, but also private organizations, such as employers – agree to repay private funders if outcomes are achieved. A performance-based contract governs the project, and an independent evaluator measures the results.

Recognizing the exciting potential of scaling high-quality CTE programs using Pay for Success, Social Finance and Jobs for the Future (JFF) have partnered with four sites to explore opportunities in their local communities. With $2 million in support from the U.S. Department of Education, JFF and Social Finance will provide technical assistance to help sites assess the potential and develop Pay for Success proejcts.

These four sites—from all four corners of the country, serving diverse populations of underserved, high-need youth, and scaling varied types of CTE programs—will be the first in the country to explore PFS financing in K12 education.

  • South Bay Community Services is leading a consortium of education and nonprofit partners to implement the Back on Track framework for youth in San Diego County, providing pathways to in-demand career industries, such as social services or medical support. Back on Track reengages youth who are off track from graduation and career opportunities, using enriched preparation, postsecondary bridging, and first-year supports to help them achieve their postsecondary ambitions.
  • NAF will build on its 30-year history partnering with high schools in high-need communities, focusing on increasing opportunities for full student participation in work-based learning and paid internships, through expanding their Future Ready Labs initiative in cities such as New York and Dallas. NAF brings together education, business, and community leaders in 36 states around the country to create small career academies within schools that incorporate work-based learning.
  • Mahoning Valley Prepared for Success, led by the Mahoning County Educational Services Center, provides high-quality career and technical education programming, including dual enrollment in college, career pathways and linked learning, and first-year experience courses. Communities like Mahoning Valley are creating partnerships with Jobs Ohio, the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber of Commerce, institutions of higher education, schools, and local government to ensure students are getting credentials that will prepare them for rewarding careers with employers in their communities.
  • Pharr-San Juan-Alamo Independent School District, which provides CTE to students in the Rio Grande Valley, one of the poorest regions of the country, plans to grow opportunities for students to pursue food, agriculture, natural resources and human sciences studies. The program will connect students directly to agriculture career pathways by working with the City of Pharr and local agricultural employers.

We are eager to see how Pay for Success can expand promising education programs like these, narrowing the opportunity gap and providing young people with the skills they need to thrive in an ever-evolving economy.

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