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IES Grant

Title: Development of College- and Employer-based Career Pathways Models that Build on the Year Up Program Logic
Center: NCER Year: 2015
Principal Investigator: Fein, David Awardee: Abt Associates, Inc.
Program: Postsecondary and Adult Education      [Program Details]
Award Period: 4 years (07/01/2015-06/30/2019) Award Amount: $1,499,246
Type: Development and Innovation Award Number: R305A150214

Co-Principal Investigator: Rebecca Maynard (University of Pennsylvania)

Purpose: In this study, researchers will develop and pilot cost-effective, scalable versions of the existing Year Up career pathway program for young adults with a high school diploma or equivalent. Year Up includes advising and social supports, college classes, and an internship. Participants are expected to earn 16–24 college credits and a certificate. The one-year program model has shown promise for substantially improving career readiness and employment success. However, its cost ($24,000 per participant) and stand-alone structure make it difficult to replicate. The team will develop and pilot-test new program models that are embedded in college or employment settings in ways that reduce the cost (to approximately $14,000 per participant) and facilitate implementation in new sites.

Project Activities: Researchers will identify design and implementation challenges, develop and try solutions, and revise the design of the Year Up program to make it more cost effective. The process will include quick-turnaround studies to systematically explore critical links in the program logic model. When a new, low-cost model is developed and meets usability and feasibility criteria, the researchers will pilot-test the model using a randomized controlled trial.

Products: The project activities will result in at least one fully-developed, lower-cost version of the Year Up program, embedded at in a college or employer site, designed to serve 18–24 year old youth with a high school degree or equivalent. The research team will also produce a cost-analysis for each new program model and guidance for new sites to implement the model. The researchers plan to publish their findings in peer-reviewed journals.

Structured Abstract

Setting: The research team will select four to six development sites from Year Up locations in cities across the U.S. The size and type of the college and employer at each site varies.

Sample: The target population is low-income youth ages 18–24 with a high school degree or equivalent. While about 60% of current Year Up participants are male, the race/ethnic background and age of participants varies across sites. Pilot sites will enroll about 30–40 participants each. The study sample will include three cohorts, the first two of which will be tracked through program completion and for up to 6 months following enrollment.

Intervention: The intervention is a more cost-effective version of the Year Up program. The current one year program includes: (1) non-credit and credit-bearing courses to build basic and professional competencies; (2) occupationally relevant work-based learning experiences provided through internships to build vocational competencies and links to the workforce; and (3) a high-support and high feedback culture created through behavior contracts and stipends, advising and life/career navigation, learning communities, and support services. The reduced-cost models may not include all of these components.

Research Design and Methods: Researchers will work with Year Up staff to prioritize and select focal problems for research and development. The development process will employ iterative plan, do, study and act (PDSA) cycles. Program components that could be varied in response to identified focal problems include, for example, the length of time for the internship, the mode of course delivery, or the relative focus on different outcomes. The primary sources of data will be document review, administrative data, telephone interviews, and targeted site visits. Once a model is ready for testing, the selected site will recruit more applicants than can be accommodated, and then randomly select applicants to the program or the comparison group. Data will be collected on both groups using web-based surveys at 6-month intervals.

Control Condition: The eligible program applicants not selected for the Year Up program will serve as the comparison group. They will have access to other community resources but will not participate in Year Up.

Key Measures: The researchers have access to Year Up's performance monitoring system and associated performance standards. Researchers will develop usability and feasibility measures to assess the models being developed, as well as fidelity of implementation measures for each component of the program logic model. The primary participant outcomes include college enrollment (using National Student Clearinghouse data) and employment. Intermediate outcome data on participants in the system include assessment test results, personal behavior, and financial and non-financial challenges and needs.

Data Analytic Strategy: Analysis approaches will involve both simple descriptive and correlational statistics, as well as multivariate methods where there is interest in assessing or adjusting for multiple factors. Qualitative analysis will summarize data from interviews and observation. Data collection and analysis will extend over repeated cycles of observation, study, and revision of program approaches. For the pilot studies, researchers will estimate impacts by comparing regression-adjusted differences in mean outcomes between the program and control groups. Researchers will pool estimates with fixed effects for site and learning community block, but the emphasis is on model-specific estimates.