Skip to main content

PluggedIn and WorkREADY! at Southwest Virginia Community College: 2018 final report (Styers et al. 2018)

Absence of conflict of interest.

Citation

Styers, M., Haden, C., Cosby, A., & Peery, E. (2018). PluggedIn and WorkREADY! at Southwest Virginia Community College: 2018 final report. Charlottesville, VA: Magnolia Consulting, LLC.

Highlights

  • The study’s objective was to examine the impact of the PluggedIn and WorkREADY! advanced manufacturing training program on education, employment, and earnings outcomes.
  • The study used a nonexperimental design to compare the outcomes of students enrolled in the PluggedIn and WorkREADY! program with students enrolled at Southwest Virginia Community College (SWCC) in comparable majors.
  • The study found a significant positive relationship between PluggedIn and WorkREADY! program participation and program completion, credential attainment, number of credentials attained, and employment and a significant negative relationship with program dropout.
  • The quality of causal evidence presented in this report is low because the authors did not use sufficient controls in their analysis. This means we are not confident that the estimated effects are attributable to the PluggedIn and WorkREADY! program; other factors are likely to have contributed.

Intervention Examined

The PluggedIn and WorkREADY! Program

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. Southwest Virginia Community College (SWCC) was awarded a TAACCCT grant in October 2014 to improve its PluggedIn and WorkREADY! six-month advanced manufacturing program. The grant allowed the program to develop new courses in machining/ Computer numerical control (CNC) and mechatronics and re-design courses in carpentry and welding to meet Virginia industry demands. The program offers industry-specific workforce classes, tutoring, academic counseling, adult education classes in English and mathematics, career-ready courses, and professional development support to program participants. Students in the program are involved in applied learning experiences, learn and work with the same cohort of students, complete a Capstone project towards the end of the program, and are monitored and supported by program staff throughout the program using online databases.

Features of the Study

The authors used a nonexperimental design to compare the outcomes of adult students who participated in the PluggedIn and WorkREADY! program to those who attended SWCC but did not participate in the program. The comparison group included students who were on the Associate’s degree track and were enrolled in welding, carpentry, machining/CNC, or mechatronics. Data sources included SWCC institutional data, statewide employment and wage data, student and staff focus group outcomes data, and data from two study participant surveys for 16 program cohorts from January 2015 to July 2017. The authors conducted statistical models to examine differences in outcomes between the two groups. The outcomes included the attainment of at least one third-party credential, the average number of third-party credentials obtained, program completion, program dropout, employment one month after program exit, employment retention, and wage increases. The final analytical sample included 251 students in the treatment group and 145 in the comparison group.

Findings

Education and skills gain

  • The study found a significant relationship between program participation and academic completion, where the odds of program completion were almost four times higher and the odds of dropping out of the program were 67% lower for the treatment than the comparison group.
  • The study also found that program participation was significantly associated with credential attainment, where the odds of obtaining at least one third-party credential was eight times higher for the treatment than the comparison group and treatment group students received more third-party credentials than comparison group students (3.53 versus 1.66).

Earnings and wages

  • The study did not find a significant relationship between program participation and earnings outcomes.

Employment

  • The study found a significant relationship between program participation and finding employment within one month of program exit, where the odds of finding employment was almost three times higher for the treatment than the comparison group.
  • The study did not find a significant relationship between program participation and employment retention.

Considerations for Interpreting the Findings

The authors used statistical tests to ensure students in the treatment and comparison groups were similar in terms of baseline demographic characteristics. They found that the composition of the treatment and comparison groups varied by gender, veteran status, and age. They controlled for veteran status and age but did not control for gender in the analyses. This preexisting difference between the groups—and not the PluggedIn and WorkREADY! program—could explain the observed differences in outcomes. Moreover, participants in the treatment and comparison groups were enrolled in different programs, presenting a confounding factor. The program characteristics of the comparison group greatly differed from that of the treatment group in terms of program length, course load, class schedule, cohort structure, and availability of support services. 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 use sufficient controls in their analysis. This means we are not confident that the estimated effects are attributable to the PluggedIn and WorkREADY! program; other factors are likely to have contributed.

Reviewed by CLEAR

May 2020

Topic Area