Category Archives: Transition to Adulthood

Complex College Choices in a Changing Economic Climate

In his first term, President Obama set a goal that the US would once again have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world by 2020. However, choosing whether to go to college, which school is best and how much college to peruse has become increasingly complex for students and families. In the newest issue of the Future of Children, authors Philip Oreopoulos and Uros Petronijevic write that in today’s economy, college tuition rates are higher than ever, student debt is larger than ever, and many students take longer than ever to graduate. Meanwhile, technology is changing the playing field at a rapid pace. Some have to choose between an elite school and a more affordable one, while others seek online flexibility as they juggle work and family.

The New York Times reports that parents often see top-tier universities as the way to give their children the best chance at success, but little evidence has demonstrated a link between college selectivity and later earnings. Oreopoulos and Petronijevic find that earnings potential varies with college major and is largest for those with post-graduate degrees. Moreover, community college programs may be best for students who don’t want to or can’t complete a four-year degree. They stress that students and their families need help to navigate the financial aid and college decision process, taking into account the likelihood of completion and expected costs and debts. “As difficult as it is, completing such an assessment before reaching a decision is key to making the most out of college.”

An increasingly relevant factor in college decisions is the availability of online education. The New York Times highlights the efforts of many institutions to provide online learning opportunities in order to address problems of limited seating due to state budget cuts, as well as a high demand for remedial coursework for new undergraduates. Future of Children authors Bradford Bell and Jessica Federman find that online college programs can be an effective alternative to traditional classroom teaching if they are rich in content and have a high level of interactivity. Experimental research should continue to investigate how these attributes influence different types of learning.

For more discussion on this topic, check out the latest issue of the Future of Children, Postsecondary Education in the United States. Also see the issues Opportunity in America, America’s High Schools and Transition to Adulthood.

College-Bound Children of Immigrants

Though the nation’s financial woes and other recent changes have left net Mexican migration to the US at around zero, past decades have seen rapid growth in the population of immigrants, including children and adolescents who are now approaching adulthood. Of the more than 68 million young adults in the US in 2010, about 30 percent were foreign-born or had foreign-born parents. Moreover, young adults made up about half of the estimated 11.6 million undocumented immigrants in 2008.

As these young people prepare to enter the labor market, those who are undocumented often experience greater adversity, even though many have grown up on US soil. Future of Children author Marcelo Suarez-Orozco tells NBC Latino that immigrant parents are motivated to offer their children better opportunities, but those who are undocumented are blocked from access to supports and services that children could benefit from. For example, Silvia Rodriguez, who immigrated to the US with her parents at age two, learned what it meant to be undocumented as she prepared for college. “When it came time to apply for scholarships and financial aid, that was the moment it really, really hit me,” she said.

Future of Children authors Robert T. Teranishi, Carola Suárez-Orozco, and Marcelo Suárez-Orozco argue that increasing immigrant children’s educational attainment and economic productivity should be a national priority and that community colleges are an important means to this goal. They suggest outreach programs to help prospective students learn about the application and financial aid processes. They also argue that researchers and community colleges should collaborate to find and implement the most effective strategies for intervention programs. For the latest research on this topic, see the Future of Children issues on Immigrant Children and the Transition to Adulthood.

To Reduce Delinquency, Prevention is Key

As a New York Times editorial noted recently, although the number of incarcerated juveniles is at a 35-year low, the US continues to lead developed nations in the number of young people it locks up. Incarceration has serious consequences for ex-offenders, including poorer health, lower earnings, and family breakup; thus many states have begun investing in more effective strategies to reduce delinquency. As Peter Greenwood explains in the Future of Children, “The most successful programs are those that prevent youth from engaging in delinquent behaviors in the first place.”

The Future of Children says that the best evidence points to early intervention, including home-visiting programs aimed at pregnant teens and their at-risk infants, early education programs for disadvantaged young children, and school-based initiatives to prevent drug use and dropping out. Moreover, community-based programs that focus on the family and improving parenting skills have been shown to effectively deter young offenders from future involvement with the justice system.

In the Washington Post this week, Future of Children Senior Editor Ron Haskins urged politicians, educators, community leaders, ministers and parents to teach young people that the decisions they make as they transition to adults will greatly influence their circumstances later in life. He cited research showing that of US adults who finish high school, get a full-time job, and wait until age 21 to get married and have children, only about 2 percent live in poverty and about three quarters have joined the middle class. Thus, investing more in prevention than incarceration should more effectively reduce delinquency and improve life outcomes for young adults. See the Future of Children issues on Juvenile Justice, Fragile Families, and School Readiness to learn more about this topic.

ADHD and the Transition to Adulthood

Future of Children researchers Janet Currie and Robert Kahn find that attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is almost three times more likely than asthma to contribute to childhood disability. Indeed, more than one in five parents of a child with a disability report that ADHD is an underlying condition. However, Neal Halfon and colleagues note that ADHD is not limited to children, and recent studies underline its growing prevalence across the lifespan.

Recently, Fox News highlighted findings of the first population-based study to follow children with ADHD into adulthood. The Mayo Clinic study found that nearly a third of children diagnosed with the disorder still had ADHD by age 27. Furthermore, among those who still had the disorder as adults, 81 percent also had at least one other psychiatric disorder. Some research has suggested that children with ADHD may be somewhat more likely to experience setbacks such as repeating a grade or going to prison.

These findings have important implications for practitioners and policymakers who are concerned with children’s mental health. Future of Children authors Liam Delaney and James P. Smith report that although we have strong evidence that medication combined with behavioral interventions can alleviate some symptoms of ADHD, we know little about the long-term consequences. For vulnerable populations making the transition to adulthood, including children with mental health problems, D. Wayne Osgood and colleagues recommend strengthening programs and improving existing systems of care for children and adolescents. See the Future of Children issues on Children with Disabilities and the Transition to Adulthood for more information.

IEP Should Prepare Teens for Adulthood

Education is important for all children, but even more so for children with disabilities, whose social and economic opportunities may be limited.

The special education system has given children with disabilities much greater access to public education, established an infrastructure for educating them, helped with the earlier identification of disabilities, and promoted greater inclusion of these children alongside their nondisabled peers.

Once a child is identified as eligible for special education services, a team that includes the child’s parents and representatives of the public education system is charged with developing an individualized education program (IEP). The IEP outlines academic goals and incorporates all the services and supports necessary to meet the child’s unique needs.

The services and supports can include transportation, speech-language pathology and audiology, psychological services, physical and occupational therapy and many other individual services according to the child’s unique needs (The Future of Children: Children with Disabilities, Spring 2012).

Most parents of children with disabilities, educators and physicians are familiar with the IEP, but not all are aware that the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act mandates that an individualized transition plan (ITP) must also become part of the IEP once the child reaches his or her sixteenth birthday. (In some states, the age is even lower.)

The ITP prepares disabled youth for the transition to adulthood. One of the major differences between an IEP and an ITP is that the student becomes part of the ITP planning team. Parents and multidisciplinary representatives of the public school system continue to be a part of the team.

The types of goals differ once the ITP is included in the IEP. Federal law requires that the IEP be revised yearly to include goals for academic and school-related progress for the coming year. The ITP expands the time frame and range of goals. The team must consider skills and behaviors that will be required by the student for adulthood, as well as the student’s interests. As the goals being set will assist the student’s transition into adulthood, they often need to be long-range goals that won’t be completed in a given year.

One critical goal is determining whether the student will graduate with his or her classmates. Other transitional goals could include training opportunities that would strengthen skills needed for living in the community (general housekeeping, hygiene, public transportation skills and skills that would promote inclusion in recreational activities). Students with chronic illness need to learn medical self-management.

“Transition to adult life presents challenges and opportunities for practitioners guiding families of children with disabilities.” Thoughtful planning, beginning at a young age and supported in the home, can increase the chances that these young folks will be prepared to take on adult roles and responsibilities (AAP News, Nathan J. Blum, MD, FAAP & Stephen H. Contompasis, MD, FAAP).

Underprivleged Youth and the College Dream

Written by Jonathan Wallace, Managing Editor.

According to a recent article in the New York Times, underprivileged youth who achieve their dream of enrolling in college too often end up with crushing debt and no degree to show for it. In fact, Future of Children author Susan M. Dynarski tells the Times, the gap between the share of poor Americans who earn a bachelor’s degree and the share of affluent Americans who do so has grown dramatically in the past 30 years. So despite an increase in access to college for the poor and minorities, the Times concludes, college is actually serving to perpetuate social stratification rather than enhance social mobility. Dynarski weighs in on “Financial Aid Policy: Lessons from Research” in the Future of Children‘s forthcoming issue on postsecondary education, scheduled for release on May 7, 2013.

The Transition to Adulthood for Children with Disabilities

Prior Future of Children research underlines the challenges faced by youth approaching adulthood, particularly among those from disadvantaged backgrounds with no postsecondary education on the horizon. Even thornier is the pathway to adulthood for youth from more vulnerable populations such as those challenged with a chronic illness, mental health issues, or physical disabilities. A recent study highlighted by CBS News indicates that one in three young adults with autism has completed no college or technical schooling and has no paid work experience seven years after graduating high school. This is urgent news considering that roughly half a million autistic children will be reaching adulthood in the next ten years.

Recognizing the importance of education for children with disabilities before and throughout the transition to adulthood, the United States has made many advances in special education over the past few decades. The special education system gives children with disabilities greater access to public education and provides an infrastructure for their schooling. Moreover, some services even extend through early adulthood, which is more than can be said for other vulnerable populations. The federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires that secondary schools develop individualized transition plans including long-term education goals, vocational training, and general life skills.

Despite these advancements in special education, Laudan Aron and Pamela Loprest indicate in their chapter Disability and the Education System, that many problems remain, including the over- and under-identification of some subgroups of students, delays in providing service to students, as well as bureaucratic and financial barriers that often complicate effective service provision. In addition, some needed services may not be available when children have reached adulthood. A recent article in US News and World Report indicates that families of children with autism often describe leaving high school as “falling off a cliff” because of the lack of services for adults on the autism spectrum.

Providing these children with needed support before and after the transition to adulthood has substantial immediate and long-term economic costs and benefits. A recent article in CNN Health reports that out-of-pocket medical expenses are growing fastest among Americans 18 years old and younger. The Future of Children volume, Children with Disabilities indicates that these expenses are higher among families caring for a child with a special health care need. In their chapter, The Economic Costs of Childhood Disability, Mark Stabile and Sara Allin suggest that due to these high costs to children and families, the benefits of effective interventions to prevent and reduce childhood disability might well outweigh the societal costs of such programs.

On May 23, 2012, the Anderson Center for Autism hosted an event for more than 350 practitioners and parents, which featured research from the Future of Children’s Children with Disabilities volume, and discussed effective early interventions for children with disabilities. For more discussion on evidence-based policies and intervention programs for special needs children and those making the transition to adulthood, see the Future of Children volumes Children with Disabilities and Transition to Adulthood. Add your voice by commenting on the Future of Children blog.

Juvenile and Criminal Justice and the Transition to Adulthood

In their chapter Vulnerable Populations and the Transition to Adulthood, D. Wayne Osgood, E. Michael Foster, and Mark E. Courtney explain that while the transition from adolescence to adulthood is a rocky road for working-class non-college-bound youth, it is even more uncertain for vulnerable populations, such as those involved with the juvenile or criminal justice systems. For these youth, activities are more restricted, making it harder to obtain a college education or develop stable relationships that could increase their chances of success as adults. Among fathers, incarceration has been linked to lower earnings and education, homelessness and material hardship, as well as poorer relationship skills, according to findings from the Fragile Families Study. Effective programs and policies are needed to help protect against these hardships and provide a less troubled transition to adulthood.

One effort to provide support to youth in the criminal justice system is to provide GED and other educational opportunities in correctional facilities. An example of this effort is Princeton University’s Prison Teaching Initiative, which operates in conjunction with the New Jersey Department of Corrections and Mercer County Community College (MCCC) to provide access to MCCC accredited college courses at New Jersey correctional facilities. Faculty, staff, graduate students, and other Princeton affiliates with advanced degrees volunteer to teach courses in several disciplines. Another example is the Petey Greene Prisoner Assistance Program, a volunteer-based program in Princeton that recruits and trains students and community members to tutor and teach in nearby correctional facilities.

Osgood, Foster, and Courtney indicate that a major problem adolescents and young adults in vulnerable populations face is that access to services often ends abruptly as they reach adulthood, despite persisting needs. Without continued support, many youth who have been involved with the juvenile or criminal justice systems may return to crime. Thomas Grisso, author of Adolescent Offenders with Mental Disorders, indicates that many youth who have had contact with the juvenile justice system need ongoing mental health treatment, with community and family support. Laurie Chassin, in her chapter, Juvenile Justice and Substance Use points out that among youth who have been successfully treated for substance use disorders, there is a high relapse rate, suggesting a need for aftercare services. While independence is the ultimate goal, the chances of success may be increased with continued support.

While researchers and advocates point to many educational and treatment programs for youth and young adults, more research needs to determine which programs are best for ensuring a successful transition to adulthood and better life outcomes. Join the conversation on offender education and re-entry by commenting on this or other related blog posts. Also, check out the Future of Children website and follow the journal on Facebook and Twitter.

Juvenile Justice Policy in a Period of Transition

In the Future of Children volume on Juvenile Justice, author Laurence Steinberg explains that juvenile justice policy is in a transition phase. Downward trends in crime rates have led to an easing up on the “get tough” reform policies of the 1990s and early 2000s. Policymakers and the public are realizing the enormous cost and ineffectiveness of harsh sentencing for adolescents, and as a result, many state and local authorities have shifted toward more moderate policies by increasing funding for treatment programs as opposed to institutional placement.

In his chapter “Prevention and Intervention Programs for Juvenile Offenders,” Peter Greenwood asserts that for every dollar invested in effective delinquency-prevention programs as opposed to juvenile prisons, taxpayers save about seven to ten dollars. Among the most successful evidence-based programs are home-visiting programs, in which specially trained nurses visit first-time mothers to provide them with training in childcare and social skills. Such programs have been shown to reduce child abuse, neglect, and arrest rates for children and mothers. In addition, some school-based dropout prevention programs have been linked to less delinquency and drug use and greater academic success.

Community-based programs have also been shown to effectively reduce delinquency. The most successful of these emphasize family relationships. Participants at a recent forum on the connection between child welfare, foster care, and juvenile justice in New York City note that past programs have often taken at-risk teens far from their families and communities, making care and counseling more difficult. In contrast, community-based programs that move the focus from the individual to the family can provide skills to adults who are already in the best position to influence the adolescent. One evidence-based example is Functional Family Therapy. Targeted toward youth involved in delinquency, substance abuse, and violence, the program focuses on strengthening the family unit, aiming to improve family interactions, problem solving skills, and parenting.

For more discussion on juvenile justice policy, check out related Future of Children blogs. For research highlights on evidence-based programs for improving outcomes among adolescents and young adults, see the Future of Children volumes Transition to Adulthood and America’s High Schools. Also see the Future of Children website:

The Dropout Problem and What Can Be Done About It

The Wall Street Journal recently released some staggering statistics: less than 40% of Americans over age 25 with less than a high school diploma are employed, and those who are employed make about $23,400 on average. Another report by the National Center for Family and Marriage Research indicates that about a third of young men with less than a high school degree have had contact with the criminal justice system. While there is often controversy as to how dropout rates should be measured, the Future of Children volume America’s High Schools points out that even the most optimistic figures suggest that too many students are leaving school early.

Authors John H. Tyler and Magnus Lofstrom in their chapter on “Finishing High School: Alternative Pathways and Dropout Recovery” point out that while much is known about the characteristics of students who do not complete high school, much less is known about the reasons why. A student’s decision to drop out of school, say the authors, is affected by a number of complex factors including student characteristics such as poor school performance and engagement, school characteristics related to school resources and student-teacher ratios, and family characteristics such as parent socioeconomic status and family structure.

Due to the wide range of factors associated with dropout rates, some communities are pushing for a more comprehensive prevention approach. PBS NewsHour reports that in Washington, D.C., individual success stories will be advertised at bus stops and on radio commercials – efforts by a truancy task force created by health and family services and law enforcement agencies. In disciplining students who skip school many communities are placing greater emphasis on counseling, parenting classes, and community service and less exposure to the criminal justice system. Evaluating the effectiveness of these and other prevention efforts is important. As the Future of Children volume America’s High Schools indicates, although hundreds of dropout prevention programs exist, very little evidence has been collected regarding their effectiveness.

To combat the dropout problem, in his State of the Union President Obama urged states to require all students to stay in school until they graduate or turn 18. In response to President Obama’s call, Senior Editor of the Future of Children Cecilia Rouse coauthored a New York Times piece suggesting that while President Obama’s efforts are a step in the right direction, the most effective solutions should begin much earlier. “Rigorous evidence gathered over decades suggests that some of the most promising approaches need to start (early); preschool for 3- and 4- year-olds, who are fed and taught in small groups, followed up with home visits by teachers and with group meetings of parents; reducing class size in the early grades; and increasing teacher salaries from kindergarten through 12th grade.”

Read more about programs for improving outcomes among adolescents and young adults in the Future of Children volumes School Readiness, Transition to Adulthood and Juvenile Justice.