02/05/2013 02:50 pm ET Updated Apr 07, 2013

Admissions at Year Up: How do you Predict Success?

As we've graduated into a global, knowledge based economy, human capital has become our most important resource. Unfortunately, the current education and workforce development systems serve only a small minority of Americans well. There are over 6.7 million young adults who are out of work, out of school, and essentially disconnected from a meaningful career path. These young adults represent an untapped pipeline of talent at a time when employers face an ever increasing skills gap. Year Up's program is designed to connect these young people with the education, skills, and experience they need to reach their potential.

When I speak about Year Up, the first questions I get asked are about our admissions process. How do students hear about us? How do they get admitted to the program? Who qualifies? I love these questions because the answers shed light on the challenge and promise of identifying non-traditional sources of talent.

More than 7500 young adults from around the country expressed interest in one of the 860 seats open for the September 2012 class. This meant that nearly 9 out of every 10 of these deserving young adults would need to seek out another opportunity. The demand for Year Up greatly exceeds our current capacity, so every six months our Admissions teams are presented with the challenge of figuring out how to best allocate the few seats we have to the many interested and capable young adults across America.

The truth is that Year Up is a unique program and isn't for everyone. It's comprised of one part crash-course in business skills, one part plunge into corporate America, and one part wrap around support for students. We prepare our students for careers in information technology and financial operations. Uncovering which young adults are ready and eager to take on jobs fixing computers at Fortune 500 companies is not the same thing as deciding who should be admitted to a college. The Year Up application is comparable to an application one might submit to a university - applicants send in a detailed personal history, high school transcripts, a personal statement, and letters of recommendation. That, however, is only the first step.

By the time an applicant has completed the process, she or he will have taken a learning assessment, engaged in critical thinking activities, solved problems in groups, participated in a one-on-one interview, and had a thorough discussion with one of our trained Student Services staff about potential challenges and barriers to success in the program. All told, an applicant will spend more than 10 hours applying to the program. Why is so much energy invested before anyone steps foot in the program?

Part of the reason is that we don't believe that the conventional indicators of achievement and motivation give us a holistic snapshot of a student's potential. Said differently, there's a lot that matters that we can't tell from someone's high school grades, participation in chess club, or summer internship experience. Our students often come from failing schools and underserved communities where such opportunities were few and far between. Furthermore, many of our students had competing priorities--obligations such as working nights to support their families. In order to ensure we are matching our available seats to those students who can make the most of this unique opportunity, we push ourselves each class to get better at identifying those students who are eager and able to succeed.

Diving deeply into the mass of data we collect from each applicant, we looked back over the years at the profiles of successful students. We've known from day one that attitude and motivation were key attributes of successful applicants, but we realized we lacked an objective way to measure these qualities. Pulling from leading research and our own intensive analysis, we doubled down on assessing applicants' "persistence" - their ability to direct and maintain effort towards accomplishing a goal, even when presented with great challenges. We codified other aspects of applicants' strengths, including their critical thinking, interpersonal awareness, and how much applicants strive to learn. These are the qualities - attributes that are independent of students' "intelligence" or "ability" - that we work to identify, observe, and evaluate.

We spend so much time talking, working, and listening to applicants because we want to make sure that everyone who expresses the desire and will to change their lives gets the support and opportunity to do so. With every class, we learn more from our students. We hear more feedback from our alumni and have more data to crunch. And so we work to get smarter, more effective and efficient, and better able to identify those young adults for whom we are a strong fit. We do this because we believe that everyone has the capacity to succeed, that with the right investment of training, experience, and support, so-called "disconnected" young adults can become economic assets, not social liabilities. And with a projected shortfall of 14 million skilled workers by 2020, we do this because our collective success as a country depends on it.