Youth disconnection, characterized as no school and no work in emerging adulthood, is widespread in American society with debilitating outcomes for each affected young person. Substantial rates of this phenomenon have been found for all youth groups; however, more recently the disconnection rate for African American youth has increased from 17.2% to 17.9% despite remaining flat or falling for all other major racial and ethnic groups. This study utilized an exploratory sequential mixed methods design to examine features of social contexts that explain how African American youth become disconnected from education and employment.
This multiphase approach involved analyzing qualitative data collected from nine student participants to provide insights into how contextual features in educational and familial settings shape pathways to disconnection. From the in-depth analysis of qualitative data, five themes emerged and were used to inform variable selection from the High School Longitudinal Study of 2009 (HSLS:09). The national database provided a sample of 1,210 African American students enrolled in 150 public high schools. Quantitative analysis of selected student- and school-level variables provided empirical evidence on the contextual effects relevant to the odds of becoming a disconnected young adult. Quantitative data were analyzed using multilevel logistic regression conducted in SAS 6.4.
Qualitative findings revealed students’ desire and need for meaningful relationships with parents, peers, and school personnel as they transition to adulthood. Moreover, students reported the value of supportive and encouraging conversations with parental figures centered on school-related and workforce topics. Quantitative findings revealed that student-level predictors such as gender, family socioeconomic status, educational expectations, parental engagement, and peer affiliation to school were significantly associated with the odds of youth disconnection. No school-level variables were associated with the outcome of disconnection. Taken together, the combination of qualitative and quantitative analyses provided more robust results that advance the literature related to the disconnected youth population. Moreover, quantitative findings corroborated what was revealed in the qualitative results with the exception of school characteristics.
Conclusions and Implications:
The present study aimed to deepen understanding of risk and protective factors associated with youth disconnection distinct to the African American population. It replicated established findings as well as expanded on literature related to disconnected youth, which have important implications for policy and practice efforts. Findings suggest an integrative policy and intervention approach to address prevention efforts regarding youth disconnecting from education and employment. Interventions should help support youth to create a more positive pathway to educational, career, and social outcomes. Beyond this, to be maximally effective, strategies to prevent disconnection need to be delivered at multiple ecological levels (i.e., family, peers, school, community), during various developmental stages, and across various sectors (e.g., education, labor). Strategies more likely to succeed will be those that use coordinated data systems, consolidate service delivery and blend funding, and involve young people and their parents in the design and implementation of interventions.