Service years provide transformational experiences for individuals as they serve their communities and there is under-realized potential for them to offer unique post-secondary pathways. America’s growing need to expand and strengthen postsecondary pathways was only exacerbated by the growing number of disconnected youth during the coronavirus pandemic. Coupling this need with the historic recruitment challenges facing service year programs across the country, we see a real opportunity for service year programs to develop new recruitment pipelines while providing an unmatched opportunity for young people to find their path, build connections, and support communities while building the necessary skills for long-term success.
In October 2020, Service Year Alliance and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation partnered to understand how service years could be a solution to the challenges individuals after high school were facing across the nation. Our Engaging Individuals After High School in Service Years Toolkit shares our journey to identify and elevate strategies to engage, recruit, and support more individuals after high school in a service year, particularly those from racially diverse backgrounds and economically disadvantaged communities.
The toolkit also includes an easy-to-use Quality Continuum that programs could identify where they are on their path to quality. This Continuum allows programs to self assess their current practices and strategies geared toward creating high quality service year experiences for individuals after high school. It is designed to fuel an ongoing, iterative process with continuous improvements each program year by examining their own approaches and practices as Beginner, Intermediate, or Advanced across each quality indicator. Throughout the Continuum, program staff will also find helpful suggestions and tools, such as the Skills Mapping and Development Tool and the Connecting to Employers Guide, that will assist them in their journey of continuous improvement.
Additionally, building off of our learning from our High School Transitions Learning Cohort, Service Year Alliance also took on the development of foundational resources that any program could utilize to unblock prevalent barriers across the Cohort participants in relation to the key recommendations for advancing quality. Our major efforts went into developing curriculum that service year programs could incorporate into their existing corps member development and training plans to foster a belonging culture, incorporate an asset-based framework, and enhance intentional skills attainment. The curriculum, Corps Member Curriculum: Strengthening Service Years as a Postsecondary Option — which can be incorporated in part or in its entirety — provides programs a strong baseline to build upon to provide individuals after high school and all corps members with a supported experience.
From this work and utilizing our toolkit and curriculum, we launched our Postsecondary Pathways Learning Cohort in March 2023. Over the course of a year, we will work with communities that are working to engage corps members with high school credentials and implement service year programs that provide intentional professional development, such as college credit, credentials, and industry-recognized certifications.