By Bernie Lombardi, Ph.D., Betsy Kim, Ph.D., Robyn Ince, Ed.M.


On January 16, 2024, The Disconnection Prevention Bill (S3080) was signed into law by New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy. Bill S3080 will establish the Disconnection Prevention Task Force to analyze the causes of school disconnection for individuals from high schools and public institutions of higher education, recommend best practices for reducing school disconnection to school districts and public institutions of higher education, and support the development of strategies to reengage disconnected youth. As defined within the bill, ‘disconnected’ individuals were “youth and young adults aged 16 to 24 who are not currently attending school, participating in a training program, or employed.”

As the research we are conducting under the New Jersey State Policy Lab focuses on college-disconnected 18-24-year-olds, we recently spoke with community leaders in Newark who worked on the bill to learn more about their perspectives. According to a report from Measure of America, approximately 100,000 16-24-year-olds were not working or in school in New Jersey in 2022 (Lewis, 2022).

The purpose of this bill is to prevent disconnection and to reconnect 16-24-year-olds to school by bringing representatives from these and other statewide entities together to establish a centralized, state-level effort focused on the entire population of disconnected 16-24-year-olds. It will do so by creating the position of the Youth Disconnection Prevention and Recovery Ombudsperson in the NJ Department of Education who will also work collaboratively with the Secretary of Higher Education. The Ombudsperson will implement a statewide strategic plan of action and create a large, interdisciplinary task force.

This legislation has the potential to have a strong impact on providing youth with the opportunities, resources, and supports to complete high school – a key factor in being able to access postsecondary opportunities. In considering this, we ask, what is the impact of framing this effort around “school dropouts” and how will this address youth agency?  One local community leader wondered how money will be dispersed to maximize these efforts, and whether funding will focus on prevention or go to the programs working with students once they are disconnected.

Given the emphasis on youth who are 16-24 years old, the work will focus on those who are disconnected from public institutions of higher education in addition to high school. Since technical and vocational schools will likely be a part of the conversation, local employers may benefit from outcomes that address the current shortage of workers trained in trades like plumbing, electricity, and carpentry.

This is an important time for the youth of New Jersey. It is our hope that through initiatives such as these, strategies will be developed to best support youth that are currently disconnected from college – which is the focus of our study. With the right people at the table, the initiative can have a positive impact on this population.

In our next blog post, we will share insights gathered from leaders of community-based organizations in Newark who work with disconnected youth.



Lewis, Kristen. (2022). A Disrupted Year: How the Arrival of COVID-19 Affected Youth Disconnection. Measure of America of the Social Science Research Council.