In 2012, sparked by Dr. Scott Cowen’s work on the White House Council for Community Solutions as President of Tulane, the Cowen Institute for Public Education Initiatives at Tulane launched the Reconnecting Opportunity Youth initiative to help communities address the needs of young people between the ages of 16 and 24 who are neither working nor in school. Empowering opportunity youth is an essential strategy for initiating economic growth in communities across the country. The Cowen Institute is implementing solutions that focus on three key levers for change:

  • Employer Engagement
  • Workforce Development & Career Success
  • Action Research, Advocacy & Public Policy

Our Work

IMG_0042As the largest private employer and most established anchor institution in the New Orleans community, Tulane is uniquely positioned to create pathways to career success for local opportunity youth and engage regional employers in solutions to the disconnected youth crisis. Furthermore, since launching the Reconnecting Opportunity Youth initiative, the Cowen Institute has become a strong voice and respected partner in communitywide efforts to serve the needs of disconnected youth. By building out an ambitious action research, advocacy, and public policy agenda, the Cowen Institute promotes systemic change locally and nationally.

Through the Reconnecting Opportunity Youth initiative, the Cowen Institute strives to address the needs of the opportunity youth population in New Orleans and in turn strengthen the New Orleans community and economy through approaches that are tailored to local demands. A defining characteristic of this initiative is that it is being developed in concert with the New Orleans Business Alliance (NOLABA) and its five-year economic development plan. The Cowen Institute is building career pathways for young people in New Orleans that align strategically with economic growth demands and business needs.

By enlisting the power of employers, we are unleashing New Orleans’ capacity to become highly effective and self-sufficient in lifting up its opportunity youth population and generating economic development. 

Tulane’s Earn and Learn Program

Helping TU FacilitiesIn 2014, the Cowen Institute launched the Earn and Learn Career Pathways program. During the yearlong program, enrolled opportunity youth work and are paid by Tulane, while also receiving intensive career-focused technical and academic skills training through the Accelerating Career Education program at partner Delgado Community College. Upon completing the program, youth will receive an industry-based certificate and Cowen Institute will help them find long-term employment.

Click here to learn more about Earn and Learn. You can apply for the 2017 cohort here.

“The Cowen Institute has developed a promising model to enhance opportunities for disadvantaged young adults by shortening the time it takes them to earn a postsecondary credential, providing on-the-job skills, and preparing them for high-demand careers.” 

–William D. Hansen, USA Funds president and CEO


The Earn and Learn program is only one part of CI’s much larger strategy to combat the OY issue. Locally, CI is a lead partner in the Aspen Institute Opportunity Youth Incentive Fund’s New Orleans OY collective, EMPLOY. As a founding member of EMPLOY, CI seeks to connect local economic development strategies with tactical workforce development programmatic efforts. This work entails extensive advocacy and employer engagement efforts.

The Anchor

The second major component of the Reconnect Opportunity Youth initiative is the creation of an entity called the Anchor in New Orleans. The Anchor will serve as a one-stop shop for employers and youth for workplace learning experiences such as internships and apprenticeships. The Anchor will create high value workplace learning experiences to improve the skills and quality of the region’s workforce by serving as an intermediary between young people, employers, schools and youth service providers. The primary goals of The Anchor are to:

  • Prepare OY to be successful in sustainable careers in promising local industries;
  • Provide local industries and businesses with a skilled partner in creating high value-add workplace learning pathways for young people to meet future workforce needs and to link with ancillary support services for youth to maximize their probability of success on the job; and
  • Link OY to support services, such as mental health services and housing that can impede their abilities to find and maintain employment

For questions about Reconnecting Opportunity Youth, please contact Amy Barad at

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