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Evaluation Finds Career Pathways Program Has Significant Positive Educational Effects


  • Many adults are left behind economically due to limited academic and occupational training
  • Career pathways programs are one promising approach to helping low-skilled adults improve their skills and education – but they have not been widely or rigorously tested
  • A career pathways program in Texas found that participants earned 20 percent more college credits than people outside the program
The Challenge

Millions of adults lack the training they need to get well-paying jobs with benefits. In the past three decades, earnings for those with high school diplomas or less education declined compared with those with higher levels of education. At the same time, the share of jobs requiring college credentials continues to grow.

However, many low-income adults face challenges to advancing their educations, including limited basic academic skills, limited finances, and work and family demands. Often postsecondary education programs are not geared towards non-traditional students who are older and balance school with work and family commitments.

The Approach

Career pathways programs may offer a solution by providing guidance and clear training steps tailored to jobs in demand locally. The Pathways for Advancing Careers and Education (PACE) evaluation – conducted by Abt Associates and sponsored by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Administration for Children and Families – provides the first multi-program, rigorous research on the overall effectiveness of this approach. It includes an implementation study and impact study.

The Valley Initiative for Development and Advancement (VIDA) in the Lower Rio Grande Valley in Texas was one program included in PACE. An impact study assigned program applicants at random to a treatment group, which could access the program, or a control group, which could not, but could access other services and programs in the community, including occupational training programs. The study then compared educational outcomes of the two groups after 24 months.

The Results

As part of PACE, the VIDA implementation study found that 97 percent of treatment group members participated in occupational training, most often in nursing or allied health; 91 percent earned college credits, and 55 percent earned one or more college credentials. The impact study found that the treatment group earned 20 percent more college credits and 18 percent more credentials than the control group. Treatment group members were also 17 percent more likely to attend college full time.