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January 2012 Brief: Volume 19, Number 1

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iJAG: Preparing Students for the Real World


by Deborah D. Thornton



For thirty years, a non-profit organization named Jobs for America’s Graduates (JAG) has worked with middle schools, high schools, and colleges to help at-risk students graduate from high school and to be “work and college ready upon graduation.”[1] At this time, schools in 34 states, including Iowa, have JAG, and in 2010 almost 27,000 students participated, at an average cost of $1,143 each.


iJAG has been in Iowa since 1999 and currently has 29 programs in 12 counties, working with over 1,500 middle school, high school, and college students in 2011-2012. Of these students, 20 percent are first-generation high school graduates. Counties with iJAG programs include Black Hawk, Dallas, Dubuque, Lee, Linn, Marshall, Polk, Pottawattamie, Scott, Wapello, and Woodbury.[2]


iJAG is a regular, everyday class, with students signing participation and achievement contracts when they enter the program. Not every student is eligible to participate in iJAG; they must “need” the program by having at least three defined barriers to success, such as a one-parent family or low-income status. Students must “want” to participate, as indicated by their signed participation contract, and they must show “benefit” from the program.[3]


Some remedial academic work is done in iJAG, but more importantly students work on job attainment and survival skills. This includes how to develop a resume, search for a job, interview for a job, and dress for a job. It also includes how to actually work at and keep a job! Other workplace competencies addressed include punctuality, attendance, attitude, listening, following directions, giving directions, integrity, and honesty. A recent study revealed that young people who come from low-income families, where no adult might ever have held a regular, consistent job, do not know how to “go to work.”[4] This makes these skills even more important to learn.


Students work on developing leadership and teambuilding abilities, as well as other life-survival skills such as how to “provide constructive feedback.” Additionally, the students learn economic literacy, such as balancing a checkbook, making a budget, and understanding insurance. Other skills taught are ones many Iowans would consider second nature, such as dealing with law enforcement officers appropriately.


In the past 12 years, 94 percent of iJAG students have graduated from high school, compared to 89 percent of all students. It is estimated that high school dropouts “cost the nation $260,000 each in lost earnings, taxes, and productivity.” Medicaid expenses for high school dropouts are estimated at an additional $13,706 each.[5] The financial burden to society of high school dropouts is significant. Keeping children in school and ensuring they graduate ready to work or go to college is critical to our economic success as a society, as well as their own.

There are 14 additional counties targeted for iJAG development – those in high unemployment areas and high school drop-out rates such as Clarke (8.2 percent unemployment and only a 73 percent overall graduation rate) and Montgomery (9.5 percent and 76 percent) Counties.[6] The cost for each program is $62,000 per school year, or about $1,500 per student. As a non-profit organization, the majority of the money, 55 percent or over $855,000 comes from local, private-sector support. Local schools provide classroom space and $15,000 per class, while the total state and federal government funding is only $240,000 and $50,000 respectively. The overhead or administrative costs are 8 percent, with 92 percent of the money being spent on student and classroom activities and teacher development.[7]


iJAG is truly a non-profit, private-sector program, focused on teaching students important skills. It is a working private-public partnership, with the emphasis on “private.” Businesses in Iowa providing donations include the Qwest Foundation, Principal Financial Group, MidAmerican Energy, Wal-Mart, Rockwell Collins, Prairie Meadows Race Track & Casino, Farmers Mutual Insurance Co., the Iowa Business Council, Cargill, John Deere, Hy-Vee, Thiesen’s, and 26 others.[8] These businesses not only provide cash support, but participate in mentoring and job shadowing for each student. Board members include well-known and respected Iowa business leaders, such as Jim Woll, Plant Manager for Archer Daniels Midland in Clinton, Iowa.[9]


Importantly, the iJAG program is results and data-driven, and tracking of students and their post-high school status is extensive. As part of this, an Early College Success Program was recently started at Des Moines Area Community College. While the data is early and inconclusive, it shows that iJAG students who attend college have higher rates of retention and persistence than other “at-risk” students do. The women in the program appear to be achieving better grades than the men are, but both groups are improving their academic performance. On-campus support for the students, over 40 percent of whom come from first-time college families, is critical to their success.


In 2010, iJAG was recognized as the “First in the Nation” program, based on the success of its students after high school, whether in jobs or in college. This is a program we can be proud of and encourage our local schools and businesses to support. iJAG is asking for more government money this fiscal year — a million dollars. However, based on the demonstrated success of this program, it seems an appropriate request.


All parents want their children to be successful in the real world – not live in our basement the rest of their lives! iJAG can help us achieve this result.


[1] “30th Anniversary Annual Report,” Jobs for America’s Graduates, p. 10.
[2] “Schools with Current iJAG Programs,” Iowa Jobs for America’s Graduates, August 2011.
[3] “iJAG Changes Lives and Iowa’s Economic Future!” Iowa Jobs for America’s Graduates, August 2011.
[4] Gina Gallaher, “Review of A Framework for Understanding Poverty,” November 10, 2011, <> accessed on December 2, 2011.
[5] “iJAG Changes Lives and Iowa’s Economic Future!” Iowa Jobs for America’s Graduates, August 2011.
[6] “Program locations by County,” Iowa Jobs for America’s Graduates, August 2011.
[7] “iJAG Financial Statement,” Iowa Jobs for America’s Graduates, August 2011.
[8] “Investors,” Iowa Jobs for America’s Graduates, August 2011, <> accessed on November 17, 2011.
[9] “Board of Directors,” Iowa Jobs for America’s Graduates, <> accessed on December 1, 2011.



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