Connecting Opportunity Youth to Strong Pathways to Adulthood and Career Success

Apprentices working on computers

Approximately 5 million young people between ages 16 and 24 in the U.S. are not in school or work. Sometimes called “opportunity youth,” they have great potential to thrive and succeed as individuals, community members, and contributors to our society. However, these youth also tend to have limited access to equitable opportunities for learning and development, such as exploring and developing career interests, building relationships and partnering with mentors, and experiencing safe and supportive environments.

Opportunity youth are more than twice as likely to live in poverty and are overrepresented within Black, Latino, Native American, and other communities of color. Two major obstacles to reconnecting opportunity youth to successful pathways are their sheer number and the limited availability of high-quality alternatives to college for skill building in the U.S.

The PROMISE Center began its work with opportunity youth with a review of rigorously evaluated programs in 2021. We learned that larger national programs with the most comprehensive sets of services, including wraparound supports, produce short-term gains in re-engagement in school and work, but the benefits of these programs tend to fade over time. In contrast, smaller and less intensive programs we reviewed showed positive results, but only for a limited set of outcomes. Many of these programs also have extensive entrance or eligibility requirements, including academic, physical or mental “fitness” assessments, written essays, and interviews. The selective nature of these programs excludes the hardest-to-reach opportunity youth from programming options.

The PROMISE Center is committed to finding ways to more effectively meet the needs of all opportunity youth, including those who are not currently being served by any program. We strive to understand the challenges and barriers that opportunity youth commonly face when seeking services. We also aim to identify promising strategies, such as recent discoveries in brain science, socioemotional development, and trauma informed care, to promote stronger success among opportunity youth.


The PROMISE Center is directly supported by the AIR Equity Initiative, AIR’s $100+ million five-year investment to advance equity in several important areas: workforce development, education, public safety and policing, and health. The AIR Equity Initiative is committed to investing in the generation and use of high-quality evidence that address the harmful effects of segregation by race and place.