Supporting Youth for Success in Post-Secondary Education and Training

For those under 30, attainment of a post-secondary degree is one the strongest predictors of future job quality (Brookings 2018 p.5). While coordinating the Jewish Vocational Service (JVS) San Francisco Early Childhood Education (ECE) Career Pathway program I have supported many young adults in pursuing post-secondary education and know first-hand the rigors of degree attainment, making it a milestone not easily achieved. The youth I work with are experiencing barriers to success in education and careers, ranging from disabilities, parenting, living in poverty, first generation college students, English language learners, and a range of documentation statuses. This is a population representative of the opportunity youth that are preparing to enter the job market. Through this work, I have developed a strategy of relationship-based programming. I work to integrate individuals’ needs for engagement and achievement in programs that have a short-term goal of awarding a California Child Development Associate Teacher permit, and a long-term goal of awarding an Associate degree attainment in Child Development. During my time in this work, the following themes have consistently come up when supporting youth in pursuit of post-secondary education:

Comprehensive Pathways:

It can be tricky for young adults to identify clear paths to advance their education and career goals post high school. Many youth I interact with are re-entering post-secondary education after an unsuccessful first attempt or stating that a lack of mapped out tangible goals or paths quickly gave them little reason to continue. Not knowing what classes to take or how post-secondary education and training will support a young person’s goals can be big barriers to their success. Creating a program that clearly maps out high-impact credit bearing college classes that apply to both career and degree attainment with connections to long and short-term goals has been crucial to youths’ success. Youth buy-in to post-secondary education must have the elements of clarity and flexibility.

Decoding Post-Secondary Education’s Hidden Language:

Let’s face it, college has a hidden language that takes time to learn and understand. Fluency in this language disproportionately impacts first generation college students and students of color. This can lead to imposter syndrome and can cause youth to shut down before they even begin to translate this new language. Service professionals need to help youth understand the importance of meeting with a professor about getting added into a full class. We need to lift the veil of bureaucratic systems and show youth that getting one “no” does not mean it’s the end of the conversation or hope.

Support after High School:

Access and exposure to new resources are key to a youth’s success after high school. This will look different for each young adult. For some, a flyer and general information can lead a student to uncover the vital support they require, but others might need extra support. The “warm handoff” is a great start. When referring a worried or hesitant young person to a new agency or program, it helps to identify a trusted colleague and give them background on how and why you are referring them. For youth who can’t find time or “will do it soon”, providers should make time to walk with them to their first meeting. The anxiety of revealing vulnerability to an unknown person can weigh heavy on youth, causing them to delay or not access supports and resources. Always follow up, be sure to ask if they felt like their needs were met and if they had any questions after their meeting.

Hierarchy of Needs:

Like any living creature on this earth, our youth need to have their basic needs met before they can be successful in post-secondary education. Food, shelter, safety, belonging, and esteem are nonnegotiable considerations in a comprehensive support system. In the Bay Area, young adults are experiencing homelessness, food scarcity, and mental health issues at alarming rates, while support programs have dwindling resources to offer. Even if you don’t have a “magic wand” or an apartment to offer youth, your consideration of their needs and support during hard times is so important. Creating a safe space for young people to cope and build relationships that respond to their needs and help them create community and self-empowerment is vital.

Post-secondary education is a complicated system, and this is just the start of what can be done to support the youth we serve. Responding to the young adults that walk into your program or classroom as individuals means taking the time to understand their strengths and insecurities. Supporting youth to become actively involved in building their early success will increase their chances of continued engagement in post-secondary education and career development.


Christine Sarigianis is the Senior Coordinator of the JVS Early Childhood Education (ECE) Career Pathway Program. Having worked in the field of ECE for over a decade, Christine grounds her work in efforts to grow capacity in ECE through outreach and comprehensive career development with young adults and parents of young children.