Absence of conflict of interest.
- The study’s objective was to examine the implementation of the Bridging the Gap program, administered across nine technical and community colleges in West Virginia with partnerships between Workforce Development Boards, high schools, community organizations, and employers to train nontraditional students in career pathways based on labor market needs.
- The study authors conducted an implementation evaluation using data obtained from regular calls with program staff; interviews and focus groups with program leadership, faculty, staff, and community partners; observation of a curriculum retreat; survey of students; and document reviews.
- The study found that consortium colleges implemented the program with flexibility, which allowed them to provide innovative services to students, while creating new industry partnerships which provided new technology and on-the-job work opportunities for students.
- The implementation study was comprehensive in its design, data collection, and analyses. The findings align with the research questions and are supported by the data.
- The embedded impact study was reviewed by CLEAR in May 2020.
West Virginia Bridging the Gap (BTG) Program
Features of the Intervention
- Type of organization: Community and technical colleges
- Location/setting: Multi-site in West Virginia
- Population served and scale: TAA-eligible; Veterans; Nontraditional adult students; 850 participants
- Industry focus: Manufacturing; Construction; Information; Utilities
- Intervention activities: Accelerated learning; Career pathways; Student support services; Technology; Work-based learning
- Organizational partnerships: Employers; Workforce Development Boards
- Cost: Not included
- Fidelity: Not included
In 2013, Bridging the Gap was funded by a Round 3 Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training (TAACCCT) grant from the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL). The program was designed to provide career pathways, enhanced instruction, and student supports in advanced manufacturing, energy, construction, and information technology to TAA-eligible, veterans, adults,
and other nontraditional students. Key features of the BTG program included enhanced and accelerated sector-driven career pathways; incorporation of evidence-based practices (e.g., prior learning assessment); contextualized, online, blended, simulated, and remote academic instruction; and expanded and customized student support strategies (e.g., professional counselor, job placement and other career services, and services to address barriers to participating in the programs). Nine community and technical colleges in West Virginia created the consortium, and partnered with Workforce Development Boards (WDBs), high schools, community organizations, and employers to create and implement the program. Four previous TAACCCT grants had been awarded to some of the consortium colleges. The DOL grant was awarded in October 2013 and concluded September 2017; 850 students were served during this time.
The logic model includes inputs (grants funds, existing curriculum and knowledge, student commitment, consortium colleges, partner funds), activities (career pathways, credentials, instruction, support services), outputs (required DOL tracking requirements such as the number of participants), and impacts/long-term outcomes (improved employer relationship, course alignment with employer needs, student persistence and completion, pursuit of career opportunities, affordable training options, employer access to the workforce, employer recognition of credential’s value, and cost savings for employers).
Features of the Study
The study design primarily used qualitative data collection methods including interviews, focus groups, notes from regular calls, and document review. Data were collected from individuals at each of the nine consortium colleges (leadership, faculty, instructors, and staff), at West Virginia's Community and Technical College System (WVCTCS), community partners including WDB staff and employers, and program participants. More than 40 interviews were conducted with faculty and staff and over 20 focus groups were conducted (with an unknown number of participants in each). Additionally, more than 20 interviews (in each category) were conducted with consortium and WVCTCS leadership, support staff, developmental education staff, recruitment and marketing staff, and industry outreach staff. Data were analyzed by developing themes. Evaluators verified the validity of their findings through interim reporting to allow interviewees to fact check and provide additional context.
There were nine sites in the study.
- Blue Ridge Community and Technical College in Martinsburg, West Virginia
- BridgeValley Community and Technical College (consortium lead) in Kanawha County, West Virginia
- Eastern West Virginia Community and Technical College in Moorefield, West Virginia
- Mountwest Community and Technical College in Huntington, West Virginia
- New River Community and Technical College in Greenbrier County, West Virginia
- Pierpont Community and Technical College in Fairmont, West Virginia
- Southern West Virginia Community and Technical College in Logan, West Virginia
- West Virginia Northern Community College in Wheeling, West Virginia
- West Virginia University at Parkersburg in Parkersburg, West Virginia
- The study found that after initial creation, colleges modified the courses to better suit student and employer needs; these modifications included increased use of alternative instructional methods such as online, hybrid, and hands-on learning strategies.
- The study found that colleges were able to strengthen their relationships with WDBs through meetings and by forming an Advisory Committee with employers.
- The study found that students were generally satisfied with the program in several areas including the ability to take online, hybrid, and hands-on courses, the qualifications of the instructional staff, opportunities for employment, and the student supports.
- The study found that partnerships with employers were crucial to the success of the program, with employers providing equipment and other technology, offering on-the-job work opportunities, and providing employment after program completion.
Implementation challenges and solutions
- The study found that key challenges were inconsistent or missing information on program requirements from state and federal leaders, difficulty recruiting qualified personnel, having students return to employment prior to program completion, the inability to address the many educational barriers of the nontraditional student population, and a lack of resources to sustain elements of Bridging the Gap after the grant ended.
- The study found that key solutions were developing programs aligned to industry needs, continually adapting program services, purchasing equipment and technology needed for the career pathways, time and resources given by partners, and course offerings beyond lectures, which included hands-on, online, and hybrid learning.
Considerations for Interpreting the Findings
The implementation study was comprehensive in its design, data collection, and analyses. The findings aligned with the research questions and were supported by the data. The authors noted four limitations associated with their research design: 1) partial and biased findings, 2) selection bias, 3) researcher extrapolation, and 4) respondent order effects. The primary step taken to address selection bias was triangulating data from multiple sources. Evaluators received both positive and negative feedback on the program, indicating they were successful in soliciting programmatic data from a variety of individuals.