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

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.

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.