An important credo in the evaluation business is that disappointing findings are just as important as positive ones when it comes to improving policies and practices. That said, it’s very gratifying when findings show that a program substantially improves peoples’ lives.
That’s the case with Abt Associates’ evaluation of Year Up, a program that trains low-income young adults, aged 18-24. Our initial report—which followed participants around the country over three years—found, among other things, that Year Up increased participants’ average quarterly earnings by more than 50 percent. These are the largest gains in earnings measured to date in random assignment studies of workforce training programs for youth and adults.
Operated by the nonprofit organization with the same name, Year Up is a full-time, one-year program that provides six months of intensive training in technical and professional skills followed by six-month internships with major employers in IT, financial services and other rapidly growing sectors. Employer payments cover more than half of the cost for each participant.
Abt’s evaluation includes an implementation study—examining the program’s design, operation, and participation patterns—and an impact study that is using an experimental design to measure differences in educational and employment outcomes. The study is part of the federally sponsored Pathways for Advancing Careers and Education (PACE) program, supported by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families.
Strong Evaluation Design Finds Consistently Large and Positive Results
The Year Up study used a random assignment design—the most rigorous way to measure program impacts. Program offices in nine cities randomly assigned a total of 2,544 young adults to either Year Up or a control group, and the evaluation team measured employment, education and other outcomes for both groups over a three-year follow-up period.
The results were striking:
- Year Up increased average quarterly earnings by $1,895 (53 percent) in the sixth and seventh calendar quarters following intake—following the end of the one-year program.
- Large (40 percent) earnings increases persisted through at least the third follow-up year and showed little sign of diminishing.
- Results showed large positive earnings impacts in every office and for participants with a wide range of characteristics.
“It is heartening to see that intensive, well-designed and well-implemented programs like Year Up can make a profound difference in young adults’ lives,” said David Fein, Principal Associate at Abt and PACE Principal Investigator. “Especially striking is the potential Year Up demonstrates for ‘win-win’ relationships between workforce training programs and major employers – relationships that can open new career pathways to economically disadvantaged youth while addressing the critical skill needs of US employers.”