College is an important predictor of future earnings. College graduates earn 65% more than high school graduates, while low-income and first-generation students are less likely than their peers to pursue post-secondary education. Many programs, including workforce and career exposure initiatives, help students overcome these barriers and provide opportunities within the skilled workforce.
Research on existing workforce exposure programs has yielded varying outcomes in terms of educational and later-life success. Students participating in career-readiness programs during high school seem to go to college at higher rates, and professional workforce experiences also positively impact later financial success. However, some research indicates that high school employment is associated with a higher likelihood of entering the workforce immediately after high school graduation and higher rates of temporarily dropping out.
One possibility is that many low-income youth do not pursue higher education because they have not been exposed to the professional world and therefore do not believe it is within reach. To address this, Genesys Works, an education and workforce-development program, provides low-income high school seniors—primarily youth who will be the first in their families to attend college—with work experience, academic support, and mentorship.
The Genesys Works program has four core components: an eight-week workforce training program during the summer before students’ senior year of high school, a year-long paid internship in information technology or accounting during students’ senior year of high school, a weekly college-access class also during their senior year, and support throughout college, primarily by connecting students to an active alumni network.
In August 2016, Genesys Works was named a winner of Chicago Beyond’s GO Innovate Challenge, which sought to fund and study programs that support college matriculation and graduation for young people in Chicago. As part of the innovation challenge, Chicago Beyond is also funding a research partnership with the Education Lab to evaluate the program’s impact.
In 2017, the Education Lab partnered with Chicago Public Schools and Genesys Works to begin a randomized controlled trial to evaluate the program’s impact on education and employment outcomes. The research team aims to understand better the program’s effect on college persistence, graduation, employment, and earnings in the coming years.