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New evidence on integrated career pathways: Final impact report for Accelerating Opportunity. (Anderson et al. 2017)

Absence of conflict of interest.

Citation

Anderson, T., Kuehn, D., Eyster, L., Barnow, B., & Lerman, R. I. (2017). New evidence on integrated career pathways: Final impact report for Accelerating Opportunity. Washington, D.C.:  Urban Institute.

Highlights

  • The study’s objective was to examine the impact of the Accelerating Opportunity (AO) program on education, earnings, and employment outcomes in four states. This summary contains the findings from Illinois.
  • The authors used a nonexperimental design to compare education, earnings, and employment outcomes of AO participants to a matched comparison group.
  • The study found that AO participants were significantly more likely to earn a credential, earn more credentials, and earn more than 12 credits than the comparison group. AO participants also had a significantly higher employment rate and medium-term earning gains compared to the comparison group. However, AO participants earned fewer college credits than the comparison group.
  • The quality of causal evidence presented in this study is moderate because it was based on a well-implemented nonexperimental design. This means we are somewhat confident that the estimated effects are attributable to the Accelerating Opportunity program, but other factors might also have contributed.

Intervention Examined

Accelerating Opportunity (AO) program

Features of the Intervention

The Accelerating Opportunity (AO) program was developed to provide adults without a high school diploma or equivalency the pathway to enroll in career-training in community colleges. The program’s goal was to develop or revise programming to focus on career pathways. These pathways included sequenced courses and training that allowed students to earn credentials in highly needed fields. The total duration of the program was 12 credits and was designed to be completed in one year or less. The program also included team teaching by basic skills and Career and Technical Education (CTE) instructors; student support; accelerated learning; connections to the labor market; and contextualized instruction.

Features of the Study

The study used a nonexperimental design to compare the outcomes of students who participated in the AO program to students who did not participate. The authors matched AO participants to similar nonparticipants using propensity scores developed from baseline demographic and outcome information. Study participants included 867 students in the treatment group and 4,129 in the comparison group. Using data from the Illinois adult education program data system, college data system, and the unemployment insurance earnings records, the authors conducted statistical models to examine differences in outcomes. The outcomes included number of credits earned, earning more than 12 credits, earning a credential, number of credentials earned, and employment and earnings in the 12 quarters following enrollment.

Findings

Education and skills gain

  • The study found that AO participation significantly reduced the number of credits earned by .9 credits, which is 8% less than students in the comparison group. However, AO students were significantly more likely to earn more than 12 credits than students in the comparison group (36.9% versus 28.7%).
  • The study also found that credential attainment was significantly higher for AO students (40.6%) than students in the comparison group (31.2%), and AO students significantly earned 25% more credentials than students in the comparison group.

Earnings and wages

  • The study found that AO participants’ quarterly earnings were significantly lower than those in the comparison group in quarters 1 and 2, and were significantly higher in quarters 4 and 5.

Employment

  • The study found that AO participants’ employment rates were significantly lower than those in the comparison group in the first quarter, and were significantly higher in quarters 4, 5, 6, 11, and 12.

Considerations for Interpreting the Findings

The study found that participation in AO significantly reduced the number of credits earned. The authors note that this reduction might be due to the accelerated coursework in the program.

Causal Evidence Rating

The quality of causal evidence presented in this study is moderate because it was based on a well-implemented nonexperimental design. This means we are somewhat confident that the estimated effects are attributable to the Accelerating Opportunity program in Illinois, but other factors might also have contributed.

Reviewed by CLEAR

May 2020

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