Since 2016, BridgeYear has exposed over 25,000 youth to high-growth, high-demand careers and has helped students successfully access the education and training needed to start their career. BridgeYear has been recognized for its innovation and impact and was selected for the 4.0 Schools Tiny Fellowship, the Thorne Prize for Social Innovation at Yale University, and the Points of Light Civic Accelerator. BridgeYear’s Co-Founder, Victoria Chen, has also been recognized as the Texas Executive Women’s 2019 Rising Star.
BridgeYear connects underserved youth to careers and educational pathways that provide economic stability and independence. By focusing on underserved youth from low-income communities, BridgeYear is working to ensure all students graduate high school with a path to gainful employment and are aware of the myriad of successful careers that don’t require a college degree.
Our vision is for all students to graduate high school with a path to stable employment. The greatest barrier to this goal? Students don’t know all their options and how to obtain them.
The number of opportunity youth – defined as young people between the ages of 16 and 24 who are neither enrolled in school nor participating in the labor market – has become a growing concern. Opportunity youth account for 4.6 million of the United States population today with an estimated 111,000 in Houston, before COVID-19.
According to Jobs For The Future: “Nearly 40 percent of our young people between the ages of 16 and 24 are weakly attached or unattached to school and work at some point during that formative stretch of their young lives.” With the chaos the pandemic has enacted on schools across the nation, this number is expected to be higher.
According to the Kinder Institute, 78% of opportunity youth in Houston have earned their high school diploma, meaning most disconnections are happening because of a failed transition after high school. Once a young person has become disconnected from school or work, it becomes extremely unlikely for them to obtain any form of postsecondary training. According to the Aspen Institute, only 1% of youth who’ve been disconnected will earn an associate’s degree or higher, compared to 36% of the general population.
In addition to a growing number of opportunity youth, we are also facing a middle-skills gap. Middle skills careers – defined as those that require more education or training than a high school diploma but less than a four-year college degree — are in high demand. Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce found that 70% of all American jobs in 2018 required education past high school. However, many of these middle-skill careers have not traditionally been promoted in the K-12 education pipeline.
By working directly with students in middle school up until their senior year of high school, BridgeYear works to decrease the growth of opportunity youth by exposing students to career pathways that require less than a four-year degree and are in high-demand by the economy.
BridgeYear’s laser focus on non four-year, entry-level opportunities empowers youth to find a career that aligns with their interests and skills so they can graduate high school with the awareness and career identity needed to forge their path towards success.
Our vision is for all students to graduate high school with a path to gainful employment. However, many assume the only path to success requires a four-year college degree.
BridgeYear exposes students to the numerous career pathways that require less than a four-year degree. We fundamentally believe there is no “one size fits all” approach to education and that multiple options must be made available for students to make informed decisions about their futures. There are many paths to success, we help students discover them.
Students should be empowered to make their own decisions. Our Career Test Drive® Program focuses first on awareness by exposing students to in-demand career options. Our Advising Program supports students in their goals, no matter what they are, by providing vetted sources they can use to make informed choices for their future.
BridgeYear uses workforce data and direct partnerships with employers to expose youth to in-demand careers. These employer partnerships allow us to promote the careers and opportunities in highest demand so youth are prepared to meet the demands of today’s labor market. Together, we are tackling the middle skills gap.
After watching youth withdraw from the monotony of career brochures and guest speakers, BridgeYear co-founders designed our program to provide students an opportunity to problem solve, think critically and explore a career through specific job tasks. Our program is scalable, scaffolded and designed to be a low lift opportunity that can fit into any school day.
BridgeYear's Founding Story
Former educators and college counsellors Victoria Chen and Victoria Doan founded BridgeYear after witnessing countless students struggle to answer one simple question: What do you want to do after high school?
Chen and Doan both started their career journey as TFA members at Sharpstown High School, a Title 1 school in Houston with a school population 95% economically disadvantaged. As a TFA corp member, Chen struggled to equip her students with the academic skills needed to attend college after high school. While teaching 9th grade Biology, Chen remembers her students operating at only a 6th grade reading level.
She was committed to keeping them engaged in class and planned as many hands-on lab activities as she could. Yet, many of her students still struggled and many more didn’t continue education after high school graduation. Today only 21% of students at Sharpstown are college-ready graduates in reading and math.
After two years struggling to help students acquire the skills needed to attend college, Chen transitioned to EMERGE, a startup nonprofit organization that helped low-income, first-generation students access the most competitive and highest ranking colleges and universities. While EMERGE presented a fantastic opportunity for the students who qualified, Chen couldn’t help but feel she was failing the many students like those at Sharpstown. For students not academically-inclined and/or uninterested in college, the education system wasn’t supporting them.
Chen decided to go back to Sharpstown High School and join Doan once more, this time as a Career and College Counselor. Committed to increasing postsecondary enrollment, Chen and Doan worked hard to book guest speakers and schedule field trips. But all too often the speakers weren’t interesting and students were more focused on how the meeting rooms looked versus discovering their future career.
In 2016, Chen and Doan celebrated 100 students out of the 300+ 2016 graduating class who committed to Houston Community College on Senior Signing Day. However, only a few months later they were devastated to hear that only about 30 of those 100 students actually enrolled in classes. “As counselors, it was apparent we were not connecting them to the opportunities they were actually interested in,” said Victoria Doan.
This phenomenon wasn’t only prevalent among community college go-ers. In the Summer of 2016, Victoria Chen ran into the high school’s former Valedictorian who was supposed to be at University of Houston but was instead working as a cashier. When she asked how he was doing since graduation, she learned that he had turned down a full scholarship and was now making minimum wage at Walgreens.
Having seen the student excel since 9th grade year in her own Biology class and then having spent an entire year helping him submit college and scholarship applications, Chen realized there was a major gap in how today’s school systems were preparing youth for life after high school.
Armed with this knowledge, Chen and Doan set out to find a solution. Using their experience as educators and college access counselors, BridgeYear enlisted the help of student interns to interview community college students and college drop-outs to understand how high school counselors could improve matriculation rates. What they found was truly game-changing:
“When things got hard, I couldn’t tell someone why I was even here,” and “I went to college because that’s just what you’re told to do,” became common phrases Chen and Doan heard on a regular basis. Considering many schools use application and acceptance to a four-year college as a high school graduation requirement, this came as no surprise.
On average, community college students, who make up 40 percent of all undergraduate students in the United States, graduate with 22 more credits than they actually need. This equates to about three-quarters of an entire academic year of wasted time on top of the Associate’s degree they graduate with. For part-time students, this is years worth of needless courses.
“It really is an epidemic,” said Davis Jenkins, a senior research scholar at the Community College Research Center of Teachers College Columbia University. “Students are entering community colleges to save money, but if you end up taking excess credits, you’re not really saving money.”
Chen and Doan realized that students didn’t just need help enrolling in postsecondary education, they needed better career clarity to determine what they wanted to do after high school. With that in mind, Chen and Doan launched a program to help students explore high-growth, high-demand careers and discover new skills that existed outside the traditional academic setting.
In 2018, Chen and Doan debuted a student-driven, employer-informed, and educator-designed service: the Career Test Drive® Program (CTD). Through immersive simulations designed by educators and informed by real industry experts, BridgeYear’s CTD Program helps students discover under-explored careers that require less than a four-year degree.
“The greatest moment is when you see a student’s eyes light up after they accomplish their task,” said Victoria Chen. “You’ll see a student successfully wire a light bulb and look at you just beaming because they have never had the opportunity to try something like this.”
Now, BridgeYear is the only nonprofit in the greater Houston area with the explicit focus on connecting youth to in-demand careers and pathways that do not require a four year college degree. In addition to it’s signature CTD program, it also provides a comprehensive Advising Program that provides students and counselors real-time resources to help youth access the training and education they need to start their careers.
BridgeYear has exposed over 18,000 youth to high-growth, high-demand careers and has helped students successfully access the education and training needed to start their career. BridgeYear has been recognized for its innovation and impact and was selected for the 4.0 Schools Tiny Fellowship, the Thorne Prize for Social Innovation at Yale University, and the Points of Light Civic Accelerator. BridgeYear’s Co-Founder, Victoria Chen, has also been recognized as the Texas Executive Women’s 2019 Rising Star.