Student Research Unveils Pessimism, Opportunity

Siena Students

Ivory Moore ’20 is feeling pretty good about her life chances these days. Moore grew up in the Capital Region and spent many hours at the Boys and Girls Club of Albany as a child. The formative experiences she enjoyed there provided direction and purpose.

This drive helped lead her to Siena College where she now develops curriculum for the Club as a Bonner Service Leader through the College’s Center for Academic and Community Engagement (ACE). Moore hopes this work will one day lead to a career – perhaps as a high school superintendent or maybe something even bigger: “I want to create my own high school!”

Moore wants to make sure the generation of students following in her footsteps has the same opportunities she did.

Aurelien Hong ’21 left his home in France this September to embark on a new adventure at Siena. Although he traveled a far greater distance, he shares Moore’s desire to make a difference. “I didn’t want the traditional classroom experience, I was looking to get involved and do something impactful in the community.”

Moore and Hong were each drawn to a community-based research class at Siena this spring, and the work they did with classmates just may pave the way to a brighter future for youth in the Capital Region.

The nine students in COMD 210 worked in conjunction with the Siena College Research Institute to perform a life chances assessment in Albany and Rensselaer counties. The students developed and implemented a detailed survey to measure public perception and conducted qualitative interviews with community leaders.

The results were revealing.

Two-thirds of the more than 600 adults surveyed indicated it is harder ‘today for teens to successfully move into adulthood than when they were teens.’ Just over half of those surveyed felt it was certain or very likely that today’s youth would: get a job with opportunities for advancement (58 percent), get a full-time job with benefits (52 percent), and have access to quality healthcare (52 percent). Nearly four in 10 respondents said it was almost certain or very likely that the typical young person would abuse drugs or alcohol, compared to only 20 percent who said not very likely or not at all likely.

“Community members are acutely aware that drug and alcohol use is a problem, and we as a community have a significant amount of work to do to fix this issue,” said April Backus, one of two professors of the course.

Life chances for education rated highest. Over 80 percent said it is almost certain or very likely that young people in the community will graduate from high school with 68 percent saying the typical young person in their neighborhood will attend college. This optimism belies current realities.

“I really thought (the results) were going to be worse,” said Justin Reuter, executive director of the Boys and Girls Club of Albany. “Right now only 59 percent of young adults are graduating high school in Albany. I think the drug and alcohol numbers are about right.”

Survey results also showed a sharp divide in outlooks when considering race and income. Thirty-one percent of non-white respondents said it was likely a young person would be arrested for a felony compared to nine percent of white respondents. In general, those living in households with incomes under $50,000 found it less likely that young people will experience most of the positive life chance events on the survey.

So, what’s the answer? Eighty percent said community youth programs are doing a good or excellent job at providing a safe environment for youth, with more than half saying such programs: improve students’ academic performance (57 percent), prevent alcohol or drug abuse (56 percent), and meet the needs of local parents (63 percent).

Moore and Hong presented their findings with classmates at the Troy Boys and Girls Club on April 24. They expect the data will help community leaders demonstrate the need to better fund important youth programming.

“We are hopeful, very hopeful,” Hong said. “We wanted to have a positive impact and we really enjoyed the ride – it was a lot of work, so we take pride in it.”