Leveraging Community College Innovations for Opportunity Youth: Reflections from New Orleans


By Amy Barad, Director of Strategic Initiatives, Cowen Institute, Tulane University

The “Postsecondary Pathways: Leveraging Community College Innovations for Opportunity Youth” plenary session came at a critical time. As many community college systems and institutions undergo deep reform, so, too is the work around connecting opportunity youth to sustainable pathways gaining momentum nationally. As the panelists acknowledged, however, too often, these two inextricably tied movements are happening in silos. The panelists’ timely call to action was for leaders within these siloed systems to break out and create the authentic cross-sector collective impact that we strive towards.

Of the nation’s 100 largest metro areas, New Orleans has the third highest rate of youth disconnection. As the Director of Strategic Initiatives at the Cowen Institute, I oversee the Tulane Earn and Learn Career Pathways Program, an apprenticeship program that provides onramps for opportunity youth to high-growth career pathways; as well as the backbone work for the EMPLOY Collaborative, New Orleans’ opportunity youth collective, and New Orleans’ Opportunity Works pilot. All of these initiatives rely on a partnership with Delgado Community College, located in New Orleans.

City Colleges of Chicago Chancellor Cheryl Hyman’s commitment to making the City Colleges system accessible to and supportive of opportunity youth is remarkable. At the heart of her efforts is a focus on adapting the services that the system offers to the unique needs that many opportunity youth have. In particular, two of her strategies resonated: adapting student supports to reflect opportunity youth’s holistic needs and address the unique barriers they face, as well as reducing students’ time to completion through scheduling changes, a student GPS tool, and whole program enrollment. Many of these innovations resemble those that we have developed in the Cowen Institute’s initiatives, including providing high-quality success coaching and developing Individualized Success Plans for each Earn and Learn apprentice and New Orleans Opportunity Works participant. I was inspired by the City Colleges of Chicago scheduling changes, and would like to push our system to consider their merits. Chancellor Hyman’s perspective reflects the Cowen Institute’s recognition of the spectrum of youth disconnection and the many factors that contribute to it. The reforms she is leading also reflect the Cowen Institute’s focus on youth success, which emphasizes postsecondary completion and pathway advancement, not simply enrollment and placement.

Another key call to action from the panel was to move beyond pilots and achieve scale, while also offering the level of individualized supports to students to ensure their success. Quite possibly the most impressive element of Chicago’s reforms is the presence of a plan that has galvanized stakeholders in the college system and beyond. To date, our partnership with Delgado Community College has consisted of pilot efforts at the Accelerated Career Education and individual industry certification programs. My charge to the New Orleans community is: what would a comprehensive plan that prioritizes systems changes and individualization look like and could this plan engage systems leaders and community partners from several systems impacting youth success?

Check out the video of the plenary session, “Postsecondary Pathways: Leveraging Community College Innovations For Opportunity Youth” at the OYIF April 2016 Convening.