Panel Paper: Taking the First Step: Early Findings from the Pathways for Advancing Careers and Education (PACE) Evaluation

Thursday, November 8, 2018
8212 - Lobby Level (Marriott Wardman Park)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

David Fein1, Karen N Gardiner1 and Howard Rolston2, (1)Abt Associates, Inc., (2)Independent

This paper summarizes early impact findings from a national random assignment study of nine programs aimed at helping low-income adults obtain training and secure career-track employment. Funded by the federal Administration for Children and Families, PACE is a rigorous, long-term evaluation of career pathways strategies. Launched in 2007, PACE will reach a major milestone in 2018, publishing early reports on all nine programs.

The paper begins with a discussion of how PACE arrived at career pathways as the evaluation’s main focus and how it formalized the career pathways framework to guide the study. It then describes and compares key characteristics of the nine programs PACE is evaluating. The sample includes four well-established programs--Carreras en Salud in Chicago, I-BEST in Washington State, Valley Initiative for Development and Advancement in South Texas, and the national Year Up program–as well as five newer programs.

This sample attests to the widely-varying ways programs can embody career pathways strategies and the diverse populations and funding streams they can involve. This variation underlies the research team’s reasoning in designing the evaluation as nine studies variously situated within a common theory of change, rather than as a single pooled analysis. The paper briefly summarizes the evaluation design – random assignment, data sources, hypotheses and analysis methods – and then turns to synthesizing impact findings across the nine programs.

The first set of findings provides a birds-eye look at impacts on several education and employment-related outcomes across the nine programs. The analysis highlights results for “confirmatory tests” – that is, indicators pre-specified as the most important gauges to whether each programs was on track for success at the 18-month follow-up juncture. A second set of results provides a more detailed look at selected findings at each of a subset of sites.

The early findings are generally encouraging. For eight programs, the confirmatory outcome was a measure of educational progress. Six of these programs had statistically significant positive impacts on the confirmatory outcome. All eight programs also had positive impacts on a range of additional education outcomes. In a number of instances, impacts compare favorably to results from other studies. Reasoning that many participants still would be enrolled in school, the evaluation team mostly did not assess impacts on earnings at 18 months. The exception was a ninth program – Year Up – whose logic model strongly emphasized positive earnings impacts at this juncture. Impacts on the confirmatory earnings outcome for this program are the largest reported to date in random assignment studies of workforce programs.

The paper concludes with a discussion of cross-cutting themes in the early findings, questions to be addressed in future work on PACE, and questions that would be useful to address in other studies of career pathways strategies.