6-year study finds positive impact of Urban Alliance program on college attendance, skill retention among underserved youth

WASHINGTON, D.C. – An independent, six-year, randomized controlled trial measuring Urban Alliance’s long-term impact on underserved youth who completed the nonprofit’s flagship high school internship program found a significant impact on: the likelihood of young men attending college, the likelihood of middle-tier students attending a 4-year college, and the retention of critical soft skills over time.

Urban Institute, an independent, nonprofit, research organization, followed 1,062 Washington, D.C. and Baltimore youth from the 2011-2012 and 2012-2013 school years who applied for Urban Alliance’s high-school internship program that combines paid internships with six weeks of professional training and one-on-one mentoring during students’ senior year of high school. Admittance to the program was based upon a randomized lottery to account for factors such as motivation in both the control group and program participants, and followed each group of students into their third year post-program.

Completed this year, the study found that Urban Alliance’s model boosted the chances of young men who went through the program attending college by 23 percentage points and of middle-tier students (2.0 – 3.0 average GPA) enrolling in a 4-year college by 18 percentage points. Greater comfort with and retention of soft skills (the professional readiness skills that youth don’t usually learn in school or college such as communication with colleagues, composing professional e-mails, making presentations, dressing professionally, and working with deadlines), especially among young men, also persisted one and two years after the internships ended.

“The study proves what we’ve always believed: that our unique combination of paid internships, one-on-one mentoring, intensive case management, and professional skills training makes a significant impact on a young person’s future achievement,” said Eshauna Smith, CEO of Urban Alliance. “These positive results will enable us to grow our program and serve more youth by expanding their idea of what is possible for them after high school – and that is our ultimate goal.”

Since the study began, Urban Alliance has expanded its program to serve youth in Chicago and Northern Virginia. It has also built a more robust alumni support program to help students stay on a successful path post-program, created an alumni internship program for program graduates to stay engaged in the professional workforce while in college, and this year, piloted a high school internship prep program in Fairfax County, VA, to provide high school juniors with over 120 hours of soft skills and STEM (science, technology, math, and engineering) training to prepare them for professional internships in their senior year.

According to the Social Impact Exchange, only two percent of nonprofits have conducted a randomized controlled trial, generally regarded as the gold standard of program evaluation. The study’s interim report was also leveraged to win an Investing in Innovation (i3) validation grant from the Department of Education – one of just 14 awarded that year – which will help the organization expand to a fifth region in 2018. The $1.2 million study was funded by a sub-grant from Venture Philanthropy Partners, a group focused on investing in youth services in the greater Washington, D.C. area, through the federal government’s Social Innovation Fund, created to enable evidence-based social change nationwide.