Friday, January 11, 2013

100% of Seniors Graduate. What does this mean?

Over the past couple of year’s I’ve seen statements from several different organizations saying “100% of my seniors graduated from high school”. Some added “and went to college”.

With the emphasis on outcomes I can see how this would be a meaningful statement. But is it also a misleading statement?

Here’s a chart I created several years ago showing the 20-25 year role of business, family, non profits, educators, etc. in helping youth move from birth to age 20-25 when they should be starting jobs and careers.

When someone says “all my seniors graduated” they are not telling you at what age level those seniors were when they joined that mentoring or tutoring program. They are not telling the demographic background. They are not telling the academic history.

Thus, you could imply that this organization that claims to serve several hundred young people has built a strategy that gets those young people involved at an early age, like middle school, and keeps 100% (ALL) of them involved through high school and they ALL graduate and they ALL go to college.

If someone working with young people living in high poverty is telling you they accomplish this, I think they are leaving out some important information. There’s too much transition of families in poverty for all youth to be able to stay with a program located in one neighborhood for 4 to six years. There are too many diseases that affect youth in poverty, such as Asthma and Diabetes, or gang violence and/or teen pregnancy, and too many young people getting caught up in the juvenile justice system for programs to be able to keep 100% of youth enrolled for four to six consecutive years. And, if a program starts with youth in elementary school, this is even more of a challenge.

I’ve asked some program leaders what they mean when they claim 100% graduated and they tell me that this really is a measure of those who survived to become seniors, who then stayed with the program through the year, and were accepted for college in the spring. Depending on the level of support a program is able to offer, at what age students join, and what the demographics and family support of the youth is, programs should show different levels of year-to-year retention, but seldom 100%

I may be wrong. However, I don’t see attendance charts on many program web sites. I don’t see “theory of change” strategies with graphics like the one above that shows when a youth joins a program and what they do to help them through high school, then through college, vocational school and into jobs.

I also don’t see information showing the demographics and academic background of young people when they join a program. Using maps to demonstrate where youth in a program live is one way to show this. Providing an overview showing the percent of youth in a program living under the poverty line is another way. Showing what percent of youth in a program attend private schools would be another indicator that would differentiate the youth served by different programs in different places.

That does not mean there are not lots of programs who do have these strategies and this information, but do not share this information on their web sites. Thus, when some leaders boast “100 percent of seniors graduate” we’re making assumptions about what these programs are really doing and what impact they are having.

If you’re evaluating programs and/or choosing between different programs to make funding decisions, it makes a huge difference in the work required if a program starts working with teens when they are juniors or seniors in high school vs if they start working with youth when they are between 7th and 9th grade, or in elementary school.

It makes a huge difference in the services a program needs to provide if a program has recruited youth who already have great academic credentials or potential and/or are already attending private high schools vs serving youth who have not yet navigated the difficult transition from adolescence to high school.

As we head to the National Mentoring Summit and beyond through the rest of 2013, I encourage programs to talk about this topic in blogs, social media and webinars. I encourage you to apply graphics like this (seem more here) to show what age range youth are when they join the program, and what retention they have from year to year, as well as what number then graduate and enter college as a result of the support a program and its volunteers provide.

It would be great to see MENTOR or other leadership groups take on this topic.

If you’re a business, college, or local media, you can help
by asking for this information, and by offering your time and talent to help programs create graphics, theory of change documents, and measurement tools that they can use to track year to year participation and retention for their own process improvement evaluations, and for building a more uniform way that all programs demonstrate what they are accomplishing and who they are serving.

I’m hosting the next Tutor/Mentor Leadership and Networking Conference on June 7, 2013 in Chicago. I invite programs to organize a workshop or panel discussion to talk of ways they demonstrate impact and show their theory of change. I invite consultants to volunteer to facilitate a discussion of what metrics programs could show that would attract more consistent support from business leaders and volunteers. The web site for the conference is

This is also something that can be discussed in online forums such as the ones I host at and on Linked in and Facebook.

If others are hosting such discussions please post links to them so others can find you and participate.

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