Elliott, of Economic Mobility Partners, evaluated Year Up in 2011 and 2014, comparing participants who were accepted into the program to those in a control group who did not. He didn’t expect much when he began the research, he told me. The evaluation of Year Up was a small study, and such training programs rarely show impacts. But once he did the analysis, he found that one year after the program had ended, Year Up participants made 30 percent more than members of the control group did. Year Up participants were also more likely to be working full-time than members of the control group. “That Year Up in this tiny study had a large enough impact to be statistically significant at this scale was kind of astounding,” he said.
Traditionally, workforce development offices try to get participants into jobs as quickly as possible, Elliot said. But increasingly, studies are showing that training programs that aim for good jobs, rather than any jobs, are more effective at getting people to lasting professional stability. Elliott’s study suggests that Year Up participants overall earn $14.21 an hour on average, but that those who go into information technology and financial operations tend to earn more—between $17 and $19 an hour.
To be sure, these aren’t necessarily jobs that will be family-sustaining for the long run. But the jobs that students get from Year Up are a good entry into the labor market. Many students will attend college while they’re working, or go back to college after a few years in the workforce.
And many students who go through Year Up had tried community college, but found it wasn’t a good fit. That includes Coria. He says Year Up provides support that his community college didn’t. “I didn’t like the way [community college] was structured—they say, ‘We want you to do this or that,’ but didn’t offer any help,” he told me. “Year Up has offered the help and the support that I’m looking for.”
Year Up is also successful because it provides a close-knit community for participants, says Jay Banfield, Year Up’s chief officer of innovation and scale, who opened the San Francisco office of Year Up in 2008. Year Up provides participants with individual coaches who follow up if they don’t show up for class and who create plans for catching up if they fall behind on work. Some of the students may lack stable housing or money for transportation, or may need to get extra jobs so they can help their parents pay the bills. Year Up acknowledges that and helps students work through it. Mentors check in with students frequently, and help them navigate how to handle problems that arise. “There’s a value in being seen and heard, and in knowing that when there are obstacles in the way, a support network will help get you through,” Banfield said.
Year Up also provides something whose importance has long been under-recognized in efforts to promote upward mobility—social capital. It’s the connections to people who might be able to tell students about opportunities or make introductions that could help their careers. Shinay Trotter, a Year Up participant, had heard of tech companies like Facebook and Google, she told me, but had never heard of companies like Salesforce, which is where she ended up interning while in the program (her mother thought the company was a retail store). When her internship ended, Salesforce wasn’t hiring, but her boss at Salesforce knew of another company that was hiring, and connected Trotter. Trotter now has a full-time job at the company, called Groupware Technology. “What I learned at Salesforce is that if you don’t know anyone, it’s hard to get a job there,” she told me. “It’s all about who you know.”