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In developing the average cost models for the Back on Track Through College diploma-granting and GED Through College schools and programs, Jobs for the Future collected data through a series of interviews conducted over the course of two years. JFF staff initially identified and interviewed 23 “early implementers” of the Back on Track three-phase model, representing a mix of diploma-granting and GED schools and programs. They are spread across eight states, although most are in cities on the eastern seaboard (Colorado, Illinois, Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Oregon, and Texas).

About half of the schools and programs are sites under the Postsecondary Success Initiative, a collaboration of JFF, YouthBuild USA, the National Youth Employment Coalition, and the Corps Network. With generous support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Open Society Foundations, and New Profit, Inc., this multiyear national initiative seeks to transform existing diploma-granting schools and GED programs by strengthening partnerships among districts, community based organizations, and postsecondary institutions.  JFF has worked with the remaining schools and programs participating in the research through various initiatives.

From the 23 early implementers, JFF worked with 10 schools and programs to develop individual cost models, and then used the results to create average cost models. In selecting those 10, we looked for the schools and programs that had the most fidelity to the Back on Track model and w ere furthest along in implementing its three phases. In general, these schools and programs were also demonstrating promising early results across the three phases.

JFF developed an extensive interview protocol to learn more about the de sign, partnerships, and accompanying costs of each school or program. The cost categories were indirect staffing (administrative, district/charter provided) and direct staffing (e.g., instructors, volunteers, counselors); student support services; professional development; and supplies and miscellaneous expenses. The protocol also included questions about the sources of funding for the various costs, as w ell as policies that advance or impede implementation of the Back on Track model.

JFF created a structured template for organizing the notes from the interviews and shared them with a finance consultant from Eduventures. He used the information to create preliminary cost models f or each school and program. JFF shared the preliminary cost models with the appropriate program and school staff and conducted subsequent follow-up interviews. JFF conducted two or three follow-up interviews with each site to refine their individual cost models.

The consultant then used the data from the refined cost models from schools and programs to inform the development of two average cost models, one for diploma-granting schools,  the other for GED programs.

At various times during that process, JFF shared drafts of the average cost models with funder s, partners, and cities leading the charge in implementing Back on Track Through College diploma-granting and GED programs. On March 1, 2 012, we presented drafts of both cost models t o the Postsecondary Success Initiative Leadership Team, consisting of leaders from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Open Society Foundations, and three national partners: the Brandeis University Center for Youth and Communities, the National Youth Employment Coalition, and YouthBuild USA. On May 31, 2012, we shared a refined version of a diploma-granting cost model with the Pathways to Graduation team, a peer learning network of leading communities of innovators using cross sector partnerships to build systems of pathways for disconnected youth. The network cities are Boston, Chicago, Mobile, New York, Philadelphia, and Portland, Oregon. Both meetings included discussions of and refinements to the various assumptions incorporated into the model.

To get to the final average cost models, the research team consulted and vetted drafts with school and program leaders (often those we had interviewed), as well as JFF staff with extensive on-the-ground experience helping alternative education schools and GED programs transform themselves into Back on Track designs.


The protocol for the interviews, the cost categories, and a set of initial assumptions for developing the cost models were informed by a convening of finance innovators hosted at JFF on June 28, 2011. We refined the assumptions over the following months.

The final average diploma-granting and GED cost models report an annual per student cost for each of the three phases of the Back on Track Through College model. They assume that all three phases of each program model are fully operational during a 12-month period. That is, the program serves the maximum number of students during e ach phase that current facilities or a specific level of staffing can accommodate. The final cost models do no t include startup costs (e.g., the cost of facilities) and other onetime costs (e.g., major technology upgrades).

Across the ten schools and programs, the process of implementing all three phases was at various stages at the time o f the research. All w ere enhancing their enriched preparation programming, and all were building out the postsecondary bridging and first-year support phases. JFF worked with school and program leaders to estimate costs based on a fully operational model.

For diploma-granting schools and programs, we assume enriched preparation and first-year support operate on the academic calendar year. For GED programs, the delivery of these phases is more flexible, although it must be aligned with the schedules of postsecondary partners. In both types of school and program, postsecondary bridging costs assume a three-month engagement, although students may participate in this phase at various times during the year.

JFF built in assumptions regarding the cost sharing across sectors and partners that make it feasible to offer students programming across all three phases. The model assumes that parent organizations (i.e. districts, charter management organizations, and community based organizations) carry some of the costs of operating the Back on Track schools and programs.  It assumes that community college partners reduce tuition for dual enrollment courses by 30 percent, waive additional fees, and provide some administrative staffing to support the partnerships. The average cost models assume a student-teacher ratio of 20 to 1 in enriched preparation;  a student counselor ratio of 50 to 1 for students in enriched preparation, postsecondary bridging, and first-year support; and salaries based on certified instructors for diploma-granting schools.

The cost models do not factor in a cost-of-living adjustment. Instead, we estimated average costs nationwide based on the locations of existing programs, which are a mix of urban, small city, and rural areas.

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