Positive Youth Development in the United States: Research Findings on Evaluations of Positive Youth Development Programs. Programs in Three Social Domains: School + Workplace + Community


Quantum Opportunities Program


Hahn, Leavitt and Aaron (1994) evaluated the Quantum Opportunities Program, a four-year comprehensive intervention that addressed 13 positive youth development constructs, including social, emotional, behavioral, and cognitive competencies, bonding, resiliency, self-efficacy, recognition for positive behaviors, positive identity, opportunities for prosocial involvement, prosocial norms, self-determination, and belief in the future.

Program Description

The program was designed to begin in ninth grade and follow participants through the end of high school.  Program strategies included a range of education activities such as peer tutoring (competence, bonding) and computer-assisted instruction; service activities such as community service projects (prosocial norms, positive identity, opportunities), jobs, and helping at public events (positive identity, competence, self-efficacy); and youth development activities, such as mentoring (bonding), life and family skills (competence, bonding, self-efficacy), college and job planning (belief in the future, opportunities).  Participants were provided with an adult mentor who provided tutoring and cultural enrichment.  Financial incentives were given for participation and milestone completion.  Bonding was a major emphasis of the program, typified by mottos like "take up" (others coming behind), "once in QOP, always in QOP," and youth being considered part of the program whether or not they attended.  Three-fourths of participants in four demonstration sites participated over 500 hours.  The average was 1300 total hours over the four year program.

Research Design

The evaluation used an experimental design in which control and intervention groups were randomly selected from a pool of students going into ninth grade, living primarily in households of single-parent, minority families on welfare.  High-schools from which the pools were selected were based upon the proximity to program offices.  Fifty students at each site were randomly selected and assigned to either the control or intervention groups.  Quantum directors were not allowed to recruit students who had pre-screened themselves into the program, but instead were told to see how many of the 25 youth assigned to the experimental group could be encouraged to join Quantum.  Baseline data included demographic characteristics, work experience, school experiences, health knowledge, personal attitudes and opinions, academic skill levels, and functional skill levels.  Analysis of the two groups at sample entry indicated that groups were largely free of systematic differences.  The attrition analysis showed no significant differences between control and intervention participants who were evaluated in the autumn after program completion (88 remained of 100 members in the experimental group and 82 of 100 in the control group). The sample of 170 ninth to twelfth grade students consisting of 52% female, 75% African-American, 14% Caucasian, 7% Hispanic, 1% Asian, and 2% of another ethnic identity.  On average, 94% of the sample had no children, 88% lived with one or both parents, and 78% had a mother or father who had graduated from high school.

Results of the Intervention

The evaluation found significant changes in important youth outcomes over a four year period, most notably in the increases in positive outcomes that favored the experimental group over the control group.  Intervention group members had significantly higher high school graduation rates (63% vs 42%, p<.01).  Their rates of subsequent college or post-secondary school attendance rates were larger (42% vs 16%, p<.00), and they received more honors/awards than the control group students (60% vs 12%, p value missing from report.)

Cost-Benefit Analysis

The evaluation included an extensive cost/benefits study which showed that $3.68 was gained for every dollar spent if QOP college students earned a degree.  If only one-third of QOP college students ultimately earned degrees, the estimated benefit cost ratio was $3.04 for every dollar spent.