Hand in Hand: Community Colleges Help Build Career Pathways for Dislocated and Low-Skilled Workers

Prepared for
U.S. Department of Labor, Employment and Training Administration

Finding ways to improve the life trajectories of economically dislocated and low-skilled adults is a mounting policy challenge. Mathematica evaluated three efforts launched by consortia of community colleges and local institutions to enhance education, employment, and training for this group. In all three cases, Mathematica has worked closely with the colleges to support learning from their programs, for example, through technical assistance to help the colleges use their own and external administrative data for performance measurement and program improvement. These multipronged initiatives were funded under the U.S Department of Labor's Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training (TAACCCT) grants program.

Accelerating Learning with Competency-Based IT Instruction

Competency-based education models seek to ensure mastery of program content while allowing students flexibility to move through materials independently. Proponents view them as a way to meet student demand for flexible, career relevant programs and employer demand for skilled workers. Sinclair Community College in Dayton, Ohio, led a consortium that included Austin Community College and Broward College, working closely with Western Governors University to adapt and adopt an innovative competency-based curricular model and offer information technology career pathways in programming, technical support, networking, and software development for TAA-eligible and other adult workers.

Mathematica’s rigorous quasi-experimental evaluation:

  • Assessed the extent to which the curricula improved student education and employment outcomes in comparison to traditional online and brick-and-mortar IT programs
  • Looked at program implementation to improve understanding about competency-based models in higher education, inform future replication and scaling of such programs, and help interpret the outcomes analysis
  • Assisted the colleges in developing and implementing procedures to use program data for continuous improvement

Rethinking Health Sciences Education

The health care industry offers a wide variety of employment options with manageable training requirements for dislocated and low-skilled workers. Tidewater Community College was awarded a grant in 2011 to implement Virginia RETHINKS Health Sciences Education in all 23 community colleges in the Virginia Community College System (VCCS). The VCCS used the grant to implement seven distinct strategies aligned with TAACCCT priority areas:

  • Adult career coaches and experiential learning/job placement coordinators
  • Automated course planning and academic advising tool
  • Automated early warning and intervention system
  • New developmental education curriculum
  • New Health Sciences Career Studies Certificate
  • Statewide registration and tracking system for noncredit courses
  • New decision support system for the Virginia Community College System

Mathematica's evaluation included implementation and outcomes studies. The implementation study examined program strategies, successes and challenges, and replication. The outcomes study focused on career coaches who were hired to strengthen the connection between the workforce development and community college systems so that Virginia workers are better prepared for employment. The outcomes study described participant experiences, estimated associations between participation in specific types of coaching activities and student outcomes, and compared participant outcomes with outcomes for nearly 300,000 VCCS students who were not participants. Analysis drew information from administrative data sources, including the strategy’s case management system, VCCS registrar data, Workforce Investment Act (WIA) case management data, and Virginia unemployment insurance records.

Building Skills in Supply Chain Management

Learning how to manage the flow of goods and services provides opportunities for entry- and middle-level workers. Florida’s Broward College led a consortium of colleges and universities in developing learning objectives and instructional content to provide these workers with skills suitable for employment in supply chain management. Nine community colleges in the consortium rolled out courses to deliver this content and prepare students for certification exams. Eight newly created and industry-recognized certifications are based on an evidence-based design endorsed by the Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals.

Mathematica's evaluation of the program, Leveraging, Integrating, Networking, Coordinating Supplies (LINCS), included the following:

  • Assessment of the extent to which the pathways funded by TAACCCT improve employment outcomes, compared with traditional programs
  • Analysis of program implementation to inform future replication and scaling of successful programs
  • Support in performance reporting