Dedicated Mentors and Financial Incentives Help At-Risk Youth Graduate from High School

Enhancing health and life chances for disadvantaged urban youth

Between 1993 and 2000, staff at the National Mentoring Partnership Incorporated, Alexandria, Va., developed and implemented a project designed to discourage high-risk urban youth from engaging in health-damaging behavior and to encourage them to pursue activities geared toward a productive future.

The project, PATHWAYS Initiative® included personal and economic mentoring, life skills training, entrepreneurial training and short-term and long-term economic incentives.

Participants agreed to meet regularly with a mentor; remain involved in the program; refrain from using illegal drugs, including, for minors, alcohol and tobacco; and graduate from high school. Financial incentives included $50 quarterly dividend checks and up to $10,000 in equity plus accrued interest upon completion of the program.

Key Results: Over the grant period, project staff:

  • Established PATHWAYS sites in nine cities with 250 youth participating. As of the end of the grant, 86 participants graduated from high school and collected an average of $7,900 apiece; 132 participants remained in the program at the time the grant ended; and 32 had left. Most graduates have used the money to pay for college or vocational school.
  • Convened two conferences of PATHWAYS leaders.
  • Created a monthly newsletter, Trailblazers, to share information among PATHWAYS programs.
  • Developed a manual for implementing the PATHWAYS program.

Key Evaluation Findings: Under a subcontract the Urban Institute, Washington, conducted three evaluations during the course of the project. Among the findings it reported were the following:

  • Various types of agencies, from large mentoring programs to small, church-based organizations, demonstrated that they could successfully implement this project.
  • Mentoring was the key to participants' overall success. The financial incentives were also an important motivator for continued participation.
  • Diverse and creative programming was key to maintaining interest.
  • Improved academic performance was identified as a program strength. Participants also reported improved socialization skills, greater ability to resist peer pressure, improved grades and heightened interest in volunteer work.