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Information technology career preparation for rural areas (Habs-Vaughn et al. 2019)

Absence of conflict of interest.

Citation

Hahs-Vaughn, D. L., Swan, B., & Clark, M. H. (2019). Information technology career preparation for rural areas. Community College Journal of Research and Practice, 1-13.

Highlights

  • The study’s objective was to examine the impact of the Florida Information Technology Careers for Rural Areas (XCEL-IT) program on education, employment, and earnings outcomes.
  • The authors used a nonexperimental design to compare the differences in outcomes between XCEL-IT program participants and a comparison group.
  • The study found that XCEL-IT program participation was significantly related to program completion.
  • The quality of causal evidence presented in this report is low because the authors did not ensure that the groups being compared were similar before the intervention. This means we are not confident that the estimated effects are attributable to the XCEL-IT program; other factors are likely to have contributed.

Intervention Examined

The Florida Information Technology Careers for Rural Areas (XCEL-IT)

Features of the Intervention

The U.S. Department of Labor's (DOL) Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training (TAACCCT) program provided $1.9 billion in grants to community colleges to improve skills and support employment in high-demand industries, notably manufacturing, health care, information technology, energy, and transportation. Through four rounds of funding, DOL awarded 256 TAACCCT grants to approximately 800 educational institutions across the United States and its territories.

The Florida Information Technology Careers for Rural Areas (XCEL-IT) grant was funded through the TAACCCT program. The award was to a single-state consortium led by the College of Central Florida to include seven colleges. The community colleges represent 22 of the state's 67 counties with 15 counties located in critical economic rural areas. The program provided training in IT for manufacturing, logistics and supply chain management, and cyber security; and it also focused on entrepreneurship. The program targeted adults who were TAA eligible, or over age 24 and were unemployed or underemployed, including Veterans. Additionally, the program refined its career pathways for non-credit courses in the Bachelor of Applied Science degree in IT, cybersecurity, logistics, manufacturing, entrepreneurship, and developmental education. The program also created an Employment Results Scorecard to offer information on employment for students; and improved techniques for conducting outreach to eligible workers in rural areas.

Features of the Study

The study used a nonexperimental design to assess the differences between the treatment group and a matched comparison group. The treatment group included students who enrolled in XCEL-IT courses during year 2 of the project (October 2014-September 2015). The comparison group was selected by each institution based on a "best-match" to the XCEL-IT programs. The comparison program could be a similar program but not one that was funded with other grant monies that occurred in former years or concurrently with the grant. Of the seven colleges in the consortium, one did not have a comparable program and did not provide a comparison group of students. The authors matched XCEL-IT program participants to similar nonparticipants using propensity scores developed from demographic information. The treatment group and the comparison group both had 394 students each in the analysis. Each institution provided student records with educational outcomes data and student demographic information. Each institution also provided linked unemployment wage data provided by the local workforce investment board or workforce partner. The authors tested program impacts with statistical tests on the following outcomes: program completion, continued enrollment, employment, and wage increase.

Study Sites

  • College of Central Florida in Ocala, Florida Eastern
  • Florida State College in Cocoa, Florida
  • Florida Southwestern State College in Fort Myers, Florida
  • North Florida Community College in Madison, Florida
  • Palm Beach State College in Palm Beach County, Florida
  • South Florida State College in Avon Park, Florida
  • St. John’s River State College in Palatka, Florida

Findings

Education and skills gain

  • The study found that participants in the XCEL-IT program were eight times more likely to complete the program than students the comparison group, and the results were statistically significant.
  • There was no statistically significant association between the XCEL-IT program and the likelihood to continue enrollment in other education.

Earnings and wages

  • The study did not find a statistically significant relationship between the XCEL-IT program and the likelihood to receive a wage increase.

Employment

  • The study did not find a statistically significant relationship between the XCEL-IT program and the likelihood to enter employment for those who were not employed prior to the program.

Considerations for Interpreting the Findings

Although the authors accounted for baseline demographic characteristics, they did not control for a preintervention measure of education in their analytic model which is required by the review protocol. The preexisting differences between the groups on this variable—and not the XCEL-IT program—could explain the observed differences in outcomes. Also, students were not matched within their colleges; the comparison group used for matching was pooled across the schools due to data issues and missing data from one college. Finally, according to the authors, due to the variety of programs offered through the XCEL-IT program (18 programs), colleges were not provided with the types of programs that would be comparable to the XCEL-IT program. These inherent differences in the comparison programs present a confound. Therefore, the study is not eligible for a moderate causal evidence rating, the highest rating available for nonexperimental designs.

Causal Evidence Rating

The quality of causal evidence presented in this report is low because the authors did not account for a pre-intervention measure of the outcomes. This means we are not confident that the estimated effects are attributable to the XCEL-IT program; other factors are likely to have contributed.

Additional Sources

Swan, B., Hahs‐Vaughn, D., Fidanzi, A., Serpa, A., DeStefano, C., & Clark, M. H. (2017). Florida XCEL‐IT: Information Technology Careers for Rural Areas final evaluation report. (Rep. No. CFTAACCCT2013.Y4F). Orlando, FL: University of Central Florida, Program Evaluation and Educational Research Group (PEER).

Reviewed by CLEAR

May 2020

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