Indiana University SPEA Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy University of Pennsylvania AIR American University

Panel Paper: “I Have My Mind Set on It”: Motivation and Goal Orientation Among PACE Career Pathway Participants

Thursday, November 12, 2015 : 2:05 PM
Orchid B (Hyatt Regency Miami)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Kristin Seefeldt, University of Michigan
Obtaining education beyond high school has become increasingly important in today’s economy. The Pathways for Advancing Careers and Education (PACE) study is using an experimental design to evaluate nine programs across the country that embody key elements of the career pathways framework. These programs aim to provide skills and credentials to low-income, low-skilled individuals who may face challenges to participating in more traditional educational programs. Career pathway programs are designed to provide participants with an easy-to-navigate route toward an in-demand career. Students move through short-term training for entry-level jobs, to one to two-year programs preparing students for mid-level jobs, all the way to up to bachelor’s degree to equip students for higher skill level employment. Along the way, students receive assistance and support to help overcome any academic, personal, and other challenges to completing their desired training. But how do participants experience career pathway programs? Do they expect to move along the entire pathway to a career? What are their long-term aspirations, and what challenges do they perceive will affect their ability to achieve their goals?

This paper uses in-depth qualitative interview data collected in 2014 from 117 program (treatment group) participants to obtain their insights about their chosen career pathways, their assessments of their ability to achieve their goals, and concerns about difficulties they might encounter. Specific questions addressed why participants enrolled in the program, how they view it as fitting into their long term goals and what challenges they see in achieving their goals.

Preliminary analyses indicates that many qualitative interview participants had reached a juncture in their life where they wanted more out of their lives, particularly for their children, and viewed the program as a way to get on a pathway to a better life and a career. Some of these participants had overcome significant challenges, such as prior homelessness, substance abuse, and domestic violence and saw the program as a way to open a new chapter of their lives. Other participants were struggling with unemployment and underemployment and enrolled in the program as a way to get a better job in the short term but not necessarily a career in the longer run. The majority of interview participants believed that they would be successful in their program and would ultimately achieve their goals.

On the other hand, interview participants voiced a number of challenges that they were either dealing with currently or anticipated becoming issues in the future. Many parents noted challenges in balancing school work with their family responsibilities and jobs. Some participants were concerned that they did not “catch on” as fast as some of their classmates. Continuing on, participants noted that the material they would need to learn would become much more difficult; this was particularly true for those who planned on becoming nurses. Some participants said they were having difficulty making ends meet after they returned to school and perhaps cut back on work, while others wondered how they would finance their education beyond the initial steps on the pathway.