11.11.2009 Policy Points

Helping Low-Income Adults Succeed

Recent years have seen a burst in public, private, nonprofit, and philanthropic efforts designed to help low-income young adults acquire postsecondary credentials and career-relevant skills.  For instance, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is seeking to double the number of low-income students who earn a meaningful postsecondary credential by age 26.

Unfortunately, the sheer volume of programmatic and policy activities has led to to confusion over what works and how effective programs could be structured. To bring clarity to the discussion, The Workforce Strategy Center, a New York-based research firm, recently published a typology of innovative efforts.

The center scanned existing practices and identified those that met four criteria: 1) help low-income students earn meaningful postsecondary credentials; 2) partner with employers in industries relevant to regional economies; 3) cultivate employer involvement and commitment; and 4) demonstrate portability, scalability, and replicability.

Using those criteria, the center then identified 14 major models that can be classified by organizational type, target populations, target industries, location, governance, funding, scale, and outcomes. In general, concludes the study, successful efforts share certain common features, including the following:


  • Support services.
  • Case manager.
  • Steady income.
  • Flexibility.


  • Direct connection to the labor market.
  • Accountability, using data.
  • Hands on curriculum, industry-certified.
  • Partnerships, multiple funding streams.


  • A relationship that adds value.
  • An intermediary, liaison, or other g0-between.
  • A menu of employer engagement options.
  • An industry sector concentration.
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