Panel Paper: School’s out: How Summer Youth Employment Programs Impact Academic Outcomes

Thursday, November 8, 2018
8212 - Lobby Level (Marriott Wardman Park)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Alicia Modestino1, Midori Morikawa2 and Richard J Paulsen1, (1)Northeastern University, (2)Boston Mayor's Office of Workforce Development

Policymakers in cities across the U.S. have increasingly turned to summer youth employment programs (SYEPs) to provide early work experiences to inner-city, low-income youth with the goal of improving long-term behavioral, economic, and academic outcomes. In particular, the impact of SYEPs on long-term academic outcomes can have far-reaching consequences as greater exposure to employment provides youth with experiences that can both shape their aspirations—to complete high school, obtain career training, or attend college—as well as offer opportunities to apply academic concepts, learn work-related skills, and transition from school to the labor force. To date, only a handful of studies have evaluated SYEPs in a rigorous manner with mixed results. While the literature has demonstrated encouraging results in some areas—such as reductions in crime and improved school attendance—there has been a lack of convincing evidence in others—most notably employment and wages (Heller, 2014; Gelber, Isen, & Kessler, 2014; Leos-Urbel, 2014; Schwartz, Leos-Urbel, & Wiswall, 2015).

An important limitation of prior work has been a lack of information on the mechanisms driving these improved outcomes as well as the heterogeneity in outcomes across groups of at-risk youth. This paper adds to the literature by evaluating the effects of the Boston SYEP on both short-term behavioral impacts as well as longer-term academic outcomes to better understand what factors lead to impacts, for whom the benefits are the greatest, and how these elements can be applied consistently across intermediaries. Using an embedded randomized controlled trial (RCT), we find that the Boston SYEP improves attendance (+2.7 percentage points), reduces course failures (-15.3 percentage points), and raises standardized test scores (+13.5 points for English language arts and +12.3 points for mathematics) for youth in the treatment group relative to the control group. Moreover, these longer-term academic outcomes can be linked to improvements in social skills, mentoring, and aspirations to attend college that occur during the summer among participants, as measured by a pre-/post-program survey. We also find that both the short- and longer-term impacts are greater in magnitude for African American and Hispanic males, suggesting that the program has the potential to reduce inequality across groups.

These findings give policymakers some insight into a broader set of short-term program effects while also providing a look inside the “black box” as to how SYEPs affect youth in the long-run. In addition, this research also will be use to provide an ongoing foundation for data collection, measuring impacts, and identifying actionable and timely recommendations as part of a multi-year evaluation conducted in partnership with the Boston Mayor’s Office of Workforce Development (OWD). Armed with this knowledge, OWD aims to better understand how program impacts are achieved and for whom so that limited SYEP funds can be used most effectively to serve as many youth as possible as part of a broader city-wide effort to reduce inequality among City residents.