Absence of conflict of interest.
- The study’s objective was to examine the implementation of the New Mexico Skill Up Network Pathway Acceleration in Technology and Healthcare (SUN PATH) program, which was a capacity building effort to create career pathways in the areas of Allied Health, Health Information Technology (HIT), and Emergency Medical Services (EMS) through a consortium of 11 community colleges and university branch campuses in New Mexico with a focus on serving Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA)‐eligible workers, veterans, and low‐skilled adults.
- The study authors conducted an implementation evaluation using focus groups, interviews, site visits, surveys, meeting observations, administrative data, and document and literature reviews.
- The study found that the program conducted planned activities and grew from 22 certificate and degree courses to over 50 certificate and degree courses. The program exceeded participation and completion targets, and number of credentials earned.
- The study successfully catalogued the large number of activities and various data collection methods. However, the SUN PATH project director and the workforce manager attended the college focus groups which may have biased the data collection. Additionally, the sampling strategy and rationale for who was selected for data collection was not explicit.
- The companion impact study was reviewed by CLEAR in May 2020.
The Skill‐UP Network Pathways Acceleration in Technology and Healthcare (SUN PATH) Program
Features of the Intervention
- Type of organization: Community college
- Location / setting: Multi-site in New Mexico
- Population served and scale: TAA‐eligible workers; Veterans and low‐skilled adults; Dislocated or displaced workers; 4,266 served over four years
- Industry focus: Health Services
- Intervention activities: Accelerated learning; Career pathways; Developmental education; Student support services; Technology
- Organizational partnerships: State Workforce Department; Basic Education providers; Higher Education department; Simulation and Online education service providers; Healthcare employers
- Cost: Not included
- Fidelity: Not included
SUN PATH was a capacity building effort to create career pathways in the areas of Allied Health, Health Information Technology (HIT), and Emergency Medical Services (EMS) through a consortium of 11 community colleges and University branch campuses in New Mexico with a focus on serving Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA)‐eligible workers, veterans, and low‐skilled adults. Funded in 2014, the program was part of the U.S. Department of Labor's Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training (TAACCCT) round four grants, with the consortium receiving $15 million in funding over four years. The program served 4,266 participants over four years. The goal of the SUN PATH program was to expand and improve healthcare career pathways aligned with employer needs; increase degrees, certificates, and credentials in healthcare; and increase coordination between employers, educators, and the workforce system with the goal of improving worker earnings and retention. Collaboration partners included the New Mexico Higher Education department, the New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions, I-BEST, Simulation Labs for Allied Health (AH), Emergency Medical Services (EMS), SUN Online/Western Interstate Commission on Higher Education, and 200 healthcare employer partners.
The intervention as designed included: 1) expanding career pathways by stacking and latticing credentials, enhancing online course sharing, improving technology-enabled learning, developing and delivering modularized curricula, improving instructional practice, and implementing core curriculum; 2) supporting and accelerating credentials and job placement by improving online course delivery, using tech-enabled learning; using modularized and common curriculum, accelerating developmental curricula, aligning testing with industry requirements, expanding prior learning assessments, and aligning student supports with the workforce system; and (3) creating system alignment and accountability by developing a statewide partnership and improving data systems. SUN PATH intended to increase enrollment, retention, and completion in each of the career pathways, address student barriers to completion, increase the number and type of courses offering Integrated Basic Education and Skills Training (I-BEST), increase credit for prior learning (CPL), increase the adoption of CPL policies, increase the number of online and shared courses between the colleges, and increase services offered by Job Development Career Coaches (JDCCs).
Features of the Study
The authors conducted an implementation study using data from site visits at the 11 colleges, meeting observation, document review, administrative data, a literature review, interviews with over 40 stakeholders, including 10 site-based Principal Investigators, 10 Site Coordinators, and 10 Job Development coaches; surveys of students, employers, and I-Best instructors; and focus groups with students, completers and with employers ranging in size from 5 to 25 participants. Evaluation staff used recordings to verify interview data and analyzed the interview data using qualitative software to code and sort the data by theme.
- Central New Mexico Community College in Albuquerque, New Mexico
- Eastern New Mexico University (ENMU) in Roswell, New Mexico
- ENMU in Ruidoso, New Mexico
- Mesalands Community College in Tucumcari, New Mexico
- New Mexico State University (NMSU) in Alamogordo, New Mexico
- San Juan Community College in Farmington, New Mexico
- Santa Fe Community College in Santa Fe, New Mexico
- University of New Mexico (UNM) in Gallup, New Mexico
- UNM - Los Alamos in Los Alamos, New Mexico
- UNM – Taos in Taos County, New Mexico
- UNM – Valencia in the Rio Communities North, New Mexico
- The study found the program conducted intended activities including establishing an advisory board of deans, department chairs, and employers to provide guidance on program implementation; stacking and latticing credentials; enhancing online course sharing; improving technology-enabled learning; developing and delivering modularized curricula; improving instructional practice and implementing core curriculum; providing online course delivery; using tech-enabled learning; using modularized and common curriculum; accelerating developmental curricula; aligning testing with industry requirements; expanding prior learning assessments; aligning student supports with the workforce system; developing partnerships, improving data systems; and increasing the number of staff participating in professional development.
- The SUN PATH program grew from 22 certificate and degree courses, with 10 supported by I-BEST basic education, to over 50 certificate and degree courses, with 18 supported by I-BEST.
- Enrollment in SUN PATH increased annually from 2015-2018; over the same time period, traditional programs at the colleges experienced a decline in enrollment.
- Colleges successfully adopted Adult Education evidence-based best practices including, I-BEST, credits for previous learning, and Quality Matters Quality Assurance system for online courses.
- Participants were satisfied with the JDCCs and recommended they be available to all students.
Implementation challenges and solutions
- The study found several challenges including retention of program staff, low recruitment of students and limited numbers of employers in small communities, coordination between content instructors and I-BEST instructors, and lack of student understanding of the stacked credentials in the Allied Health program.
- The study found that some of the activities of the SUN PATH program were difficult to implement. For example, branch campuses did not have the authority to establish the credits for prior learning process and this activity would have been better handled at the state level.
- There was a gap in the career pathway for Nursing Assistants and Registered Nurses and the SUN PATH program needed an outcome for students that did not get accepted to BSN programs.
- Information about online offerings were not conveyed consistently or accurately to students and some students missed courses needed to graduate because of scheduling or availability issues of classes.
Considerations for Interpreting the Findings
The SUN PATH project director and the workforce manager were at all college focus groups which may have biased data collection at those events. Additionally, the sampling strategy and rationale for who was selected for data collection is not explicit and the authors do not provide details about the data analysis methods. The available data did not allow for detailed employment outcomes beyond employed/not employed post-program, while credential attainment was self-reported.