E-mail this page
Download PDF
1.19MB, 84 pages
Acrobat Reader required
NCSET logo

National Center on Secondary Education and Transition

Increasing Rates of School Completion
Moving From Policy and Research to Practice

A Manual for Policymakers, Administrators, and Educators

Part III: What Works in Dropout Prevention?

Sample Dropout Intervention Program


Background: Project COFFEE (Co-Operative Federation For Educational Experience) was created in 1979 in Massachusetts with the purpose of meeting the academic, occupational, social, emotional, and employability needs of high school students considered at-risk. It is typically described as an alternative occupational education program that integrates academic and vocational instruction to increase the likelihood that participants will complete school and obtain employment. Project COFFEE has been funded by the U.S. Department of Education.

Project COFFEE has been replicated in many areas across the country. Project JOBS (Joining Occupational and Basic Skills) is an offshoot of Project COFFEE created for use in grades 6-8. Project JOBS is intended to address the needs of students who have emotional/behavioral problems early and prevent later problems by helping them to become engaged in their schooling. Another offshoot of Project COFFEE is the Lifelong Options Program (LOP), which is modeled on the same basic concepts and has similar components, but also includes employability skills training.

Intervention Description: This model was designed to prevent school dropout by providing services addressing students’ academic, social, emotional, and occupational needs. The program seeks to balance cognitive achievement, skills training, and occupational education with services meant to provide for students’ developmental needs. Project COFFEE offers individualized instruction structured as a half day of academic coursework and a half day in occupational instruction. Fundamental aspects of the program include five main components: academic, life-coping skills, occupational, guidance and counseling, and physical education. These five components are integrated with the help of numerous individuals such as teachers, counselors, administrators, and employers.

Project COFFEE participants attend classes together in a separate building from other district high schools. The low teacher-to-student ratio (no more than eight to ten students in each class), emphasis on the occupational component, individualized instruction in basic skills, and focus on credits needed for graduation help to ensure that the students who participate in the program reduce their risk of dropping out of school. As part of the program, students participate in roleplays and mock interviews to enhance their life-coping skills. As part of the occupational component, students receive skills training in the classroom as well as a work-study placement that begins during their first year of the program and continues until graduation. For the guidance and counseling component of the program, participants meet for individual and group counseling sessions to discuss social, emotional, academic, and career planning issues. The physical education component consists of different activities each week, sometimes on school grounds and other times in local facilities.

Participants & Setting: This model is intended for use with high school students (grades 9 to 12) who have been identified as at-risk. The initial program included students from 21 different school districts within a 30-mile radius in central Massachusetts; it has since been replicated in rural, urban, and suburban areas. Project COFFEE was originally created to serve students with severe emotional/behavioral disabilities.

Implementation Considerations: Many individuals are involved in the implementation of Project COFFEE. Among these are teachers who address the academic and life-coping skills components of the model and counselors who address the guidance and counseling component. The counselors also act as the program’s primary liaisons with social services and youth agencies as well as with the students’ home school districts. Both academic teachers and occupational instructors provide the physical education component of the model. The occupational component is addressed by occupational instructors in the classroom as well as through the implementation of a work-study experience at a community site (e.g., business, nursing home) involving community members and employers.

Cost: No information was identified in the available material.

Evidence of Effectiveness: Four longitudinal studies have examined Project COFFEE since 1989. In addition, Project COFFEE was included in a government-funded investigation of programs using evidence-based dropout prevention methods. In the government investigation, seven sites replicated Project COFFEE. Overall, results showed that there was some impact on dropout prevention as well as positive changes in students’ academic achievement.

Project COFFEE was implemented at four different sites in North Dakota during the years 1989-92. The target population was Native American youth. Results from an evaluation conducted at one site showed a significant effect on dropping out (i.e., fewer students in the treatment group dropped out compared to the control group). Results from another site indicated a higher rate of dropout for the first wave of students to receive the intervention compared to the treatment group, but the second wave of participants had a lower rate of dropout than students in the control group. The third and fourth sites had numerically lower rates of dropout among participants, but these differences were not statistically significant.

A separate study examined the effectiveness of a program modeled after Project COFFEE: OASIS Alternative School. There were minor differences between the two programs. For example, OASIS did not follow the same sort of schedule as Project COFFEE and focused more on at-risk youth with histories of truancy and suspension rather than students with emotional/behavioral disabilities. The study found that after two years, OASIS participants showed significant improvements in school attendance and grade-point averages. It was also noted that participants showed almost immediate improvement in their attitudes toward school and the school environment.

Manual or Training Available: No information was provided in the available material.


Hayward, B. J. (1992, April). Dropout prevention in vocational education: Findings from the first two years of the demonstration. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association, San Francisco, CA.

Hayward, B. J., & Tallmadge, G. K. (1995). Strategies for keeping kids in school: Evaluation of dropout prevention and reentry projects in vocational education. Washington DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.

Project COFFEE: Program design. (n.d.). Retrieved December 17, 2003 from http://www.oxps.org/coffee/pcoff1.htm

Carty, K. (1996, April). Project COFFEE is still considered a model. Retrieved December 17, 2003, from http://www.mma.org/news/news_archives/innovations_archive/mass_innov_97-99/project_coffee.html

Contact Information:

Ed Sikonski, Director
The Oxford High School Annex
Main St.
Oxford, MA 01540
Phone: 508-987-6090
Fax: 508-987-6097

Web site: http://www.oxps.org/NEW%20COFFEE%20II/newcoffee.htm

Table of Contents

Cover Page

Introduction & Getting Started

Part I: What Do We Know About Dropout Prevention?

Part II: How Were Sample Intervention Programs Selected?

  • The Need for Examples of Effective Interventions
  • Search Process & Initial Criteria
  • Raising the Bar
  • Final Parameters for Selection
  • Abstracts: Coding & Definitions

Part III: What Works in Dropout Prevention?

Part IV: Where Else Can I Go for More Information?

  • Related Resources & Organizations
  • Journal Articles & Related Publications
  • Web Sites Providing Data on Dropout Rates

Appendix: Reproducible Handouts on Dropout Prevention


E-mail this page
Download PDF
1.19MB, 84 pages
Acrobat Reader required

Citation: Lehr, C. A., Johnson, D. R., Bremer, C. D., Cosio, A., & Thompson, M. (2004). Essential tools: Increasing rates of school completion: Moving from policy and research to practice. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota, Institute on Community Integration, National Center on Secondary Education and Transition.

Permission is granted to duplicate this publication in its entirety or portions thereof. Upon request, this publication will be made available in alternative formats. For additional copies of this publication, or to request an alternate format, please contact: Institute on Community Integration Publications Office, 109 Pattee Hall, 150 Pillsbury Drive SE, Minneapolis, MN 55455, (612) 624-4512, icipub@umn.edu.

This document was published by the National Center on Secondary Education and Transition (NCSET). NCSET is supported through a cooperative agreement #H326J000005 with the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs. Opinions expressed herein do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of the U.S. Department of Education Programs, and no official endorsement should be inferred. The University of Minnesota, the U.S. Department of Education, and the National Center on Secondary Education and Transition are equal opportunity employers and educators.