Absence of conflict of interest.
The study’s objective was to examine the impact of Project QUEST on employment and earnings over nine years.
The study was a randomized controlled trial that used quarterly earnings data from the Texas Workforce Commission to compare employment and earnings outcomes for individuals who received Project QUEST services (the intervention group) versus those who did not (the comparison group).
The study found a positive statistically significant relationship between participation in Project QUEST and employment in 5 of the 36 quarters examined, along with a positive statistically significant relationship between Project QUEST and employment in participants’ desired field of healthcare in two of the nine years examined. The study also found that individuals eligible for Project QUEST services had significantly higher average annual earnings in years four through six and inyear nine than individuals in the comparison group did.
This study receives a high evidence rating because it was based on a well-implemented randomized controlled trial. This means we are confident that the estimated effects are attributable to Project QUEST and not to other factors.
Features of the Intervention
Project QUEST was founded in 1992 to help San Antonio residents acquire the skills needed for well-paying jobs in thriving economic sectors of their community. Two community organizing groups, Communities Organized for Public Services (COPS) and Metro Alliance, founded Project QUEST to provide comprehensive support to help participants complete occupational training programs and obtain jobs. Project QUEST includes (1) financial assistance for tuition, fees, transportation, and uniforms; (2) remedial instruction to help individuals pass college placement exams in math and reading; (3) counseling to address personal and academic concerns; (4) referrals to resources for other expenses such as childcare, utilities, and food; (5) weekly meetings focused on time management and other life skills; and (6) job placement assistance.
Project QUEST targeted individuals who were interested in training for healthcare jobs but not currently attending college classes. About 85 percent of participants intended to enroll in non-degree certificate programs to become licensed vocational nurses or medical records coders, while the remainder intended to enroll in programs leading to an associate’s degree such as registered nursing and surgical technician programs.
Features of the Study
This study was a randomized controlled trial. Individuals who enrolled between April 2006 and October 2008 were randomly assigned within blocks based on intended program of study (e.g., registered nursing, licensed vocational nursing). Individuals assigned to the intervention group were invited to participate in the Project QUEST services while those assigned to the control group could not receive these services but could enroll in college or training services on their own.
The study took place in San Antonio, Texas, and included 207 treatment group members and 203 comparison group members. Over 88 percent of the sample was female. About 74 percent of the sample identified as Latina/o and 14 percent identified as African American. Less than five percent of the sample had a college degree at program entry. About 84 percent were employed in the year prior to program entry, with average annual earnings of less than $12,000.
This report analyzes quarterly earnings data from the Texas Workforce Commission; these data are reported by employers for the administration of Texas’s unemployment insurance program. The study also uses data from a baseline survey. To compare the outcomes of treatment and comparison group members, the authors used a statistical model that controlled for participants’ gender, age, race/ethnicity, highest degree earned, intended healthcare program track, and other background characteristics.
The study found that the share of the treatment group who were employed was significantly higher in 5 of the 36 quarters (Q13, Q20 - Q22, and Q35). For example, in quarter 35, about 84 percent of the treatment group was employed compared to about 75 percent of the comparison group.
The study found that, in two of the nine years examined, a significantly higher share of the treatment group than of the comparison group was employed in the healthcare industry. Specifically, in years 5 and 6, 46 percent of the treatment group compared to 31 percent of the comparison group were employed in healthcare.
Earnings and wages
The study found that, while the intervention group’s annual earnings were significantly lower than the comparison group’s in Years 1 and 2 (when many QUEST participants were enrolled in the college courses), by Year 4, the intervention group’s average annual earnings were significantly higher than the comparison group’s. The intervention group had annual earnings that were significantly higher than the comparison group’s in years 4 through 6 and year 9. In year 9, the intervention group’s average earnings of $33,644 were $5,239 higher than the comparison group’s average earnings.
Across the nine years, participants in the intervention group earned an average of $19,877 more than the comparison group, but this difference was not statistically significant.
Considerations for Interpreting the Findings
The study authors estimated multiple related impacts on outcomes related to employment and earnings. Performing multiple statistical tests on related outcomes makes it more likely that some impacts will be found statistically significant purely by chance and not because they reflect program effectiveness. The authors did not perform statistical adjustments to account for the multiple tests, so the number of statistically significant findings in these domains is likely to be overstated.
Causal Evidence Rating
The quality of causal evidence presented in this report is high because it was based on a well-implemented randomized controlled trial. This means we are confident that the estimated effects are attributable to Project QUEST and not to other factors.