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IES Grant

Title: Strengthening Virginia's Pandemic Recovery Efforts: Providing High-Quality Community College Workforce Education to Underserved Adults
Center: NCER Year: 2022
Principal Investigator: Edgecombe, Nicole Awardee: Teachers College, Columbia University
Program: Community College Recovery Research Network      [Program Details]
Award Period: 3 years (09/01/2022 – 08/21/2025) Award Amount: $2,999,746
Type: Exploration Award Number: R305X220024

Co-Principal Investigators: Bonilla, Sade; Cormier, Maria; Finnegan, Catherine

Education Agency: Virginia Community College System (VCCS)

Related Network Teams: The Community College Recovery Research Network, part of the Improving Pandemic Recovery grant program, includes the following other projects — Accelerating Recovery in Community Colleges Network Lead (R305X220022); Evidence to Inform Improvement: Supporting California Community Colleges in Pandemic Recovery (R305X220016); Leveraging Technology and Engaging Students: Evaluating Covid-19 Recovery Efforts in the Los Angeles Community College District (R305X220018); Strengthening Virginia's Pandemic Recovery Efforts: Providing High-Quality Community College Workforce Education to Underserved Adults (R305X220024)

A Research Network involves several teams of researchers who are working together to address a critical education problem or issue. The objective is to encourage information sharing, build new knowledge, and assist policymakers and practitioners to strengthen education policies and programs and improve student education outcomes. The Community College Recovery Research Network was established to conduct research to support strategies for counteracting declines in postsecondary enrollment and academic progress that occurred for many learners during the COVID-19 pandemic. Each project within the network includes at least one education agency. The Network Lead and Research Teams will work collaboratively with the agencies to identify, explore, evaluate, and improve programs and policies designed to accelerate re-engagement and academic progress for all learners, with a specific focus on impacted subgroups.

Purpose: The purpose of this Network project is to examine barriers to postsecondary enrollment, persistence, and completion for low-income, Black, and Hispanic students and generate knowledge that will lead to significant improvements in their progress through and completion of workforce training programs leading to high-demand occupations. To achieve these aims, researchers will partner with the Virginia Community College System (VCCS) to examine and improve Get A Skill, Get A Job, Get Ahead (G3), VCCS's central pandemic workforce recovery strategy first implemented in fall 2021. G3 is a last-dollar scholarship initiative targeting low-income students in workforce programs in five high-demand fields (health care, information technology and computer science, manufacturing and skilled trades, early childhood education, and public safety) that also provides dedicated advising and other resources to eligible students. The initiative aims to increase enrollment, persistence, and completion of participating students. The VCCS has prioritized further improvements to G3 that are explicitly designed to enroll, retain, graduate, and improve the labor market outcomes of low-income adults and especially low-income adult Black and Hispanic students. The partnership will undertake research to identify institutional and systemwide approaches to enhancing G3 program design and implementation and to track progress on specific student outcomes.

Project Activities: During Year 1, researchers will collect VCCS administrative data and assess student enrollment in G3 as well as document and analyze G3 recruitment and enrollment strategies across colleges. In Year 2, researchers will examine the provision of student supports and instructional delivery models by conducting fieldwork that includes interviews and focus groups with students, staff, and administrators. The team will also conduct descriptive outcomes analyses. In Year 3, researchers will estimate the effects of G3's last-dollar financial aid and living stipend on college and labor market outcomes. Throughout the project, the research team will provide timely formative feedback to the VCCS while also engaging the broader field on important questions of quality and equity in the implementation of workforce programs.

Products: The research team will generate exploratory evidence about factors that lead to student success in G3 programs. The team will produce (1) a policy brief describing the project, Virginia's pandemic recovery strategy, and equity considerations for workforce development policy; (2) podcasts featuring the experiences of G3 students; and (3) interim and final reports on the G3 initiative, student outcomes, and improvement measures undertaken by VCCS colleges. The project will provide continuous internal dissemination to the VCCS as well as external dissemination of findings to other colleges, state systems, policymakers, and researchers.

Structured Abstract

Setting: The setting for this project is the Virginia Community College System (VCCS) and its 23 colleges.

Population/Sample: In AY 2021–22, there were roughly 40,000 students enrolled in credit workforce programs at VCCS, which includes nearly 30,000 students in G3-eligible programs and almost 10,000 G3 students. The principal sample used in the quantitative analyses will be VCCS students enrolled in G3-eligible programs before and after implementation of the G3 initiative. This includes three academic years prior to AY 2021-22 and will include cohorts through AY 2023-24. There are approximately 15,000 students per cohort for a total expected sample size of approximately 90,000 students over six cohorts.

Factors: The project team will examine five key components of G3 programming in relation to a set of improvement priorities identified by the VCCS. The key components, designed to encourage more students to participate and advance to longer-term credentials and degrees in high-demand occupational fields, include:

  • A last-dollar tuition assistance scholarship for tuition, fees, and books
  • A living stipend to Pell-eligible students or living costs beyond tuition
  • Stackable credentials in workforce credentials in five high-demand fields
  • Front-loaded instruction in industry skills early in programs
  • Dedicated G3 advising to provide students sustained academic and nonacademic support throughout their program enrollment

The improvement priorities identified by the VCCS are aimed at strengthening G3 to better serve the state's Black, Latinx, and low-income adults and include:

  • Developing more effective G3 outreach and recruitment strategies
  • Connecting G3 students to robust, culturally sustaining wraparound supports and services
  • Developing instructional models that work for historically marginalized adults seeking flexibility
  • Creating stronger incentives to stack credentials and attain associate degrees.

Research Design and Methods: The project employs a multi-method research design that combines descriptive and exploratory analysis of administrative data with qualitative analysis of interview and focus group data from key stakeholders and of documentary evidence.

Key Measures: Quantitative outcome measures will include enrollment, persistence, completion of credentials and programs of study, as well as labor market outcomes (e.g., early-career employment, earnings, and industry of employment). The team will have access to a rich set of covariates to identify subgroups and construct more detailed measures of progress, including information on student gender, race/ethnicity, enrollment and withdrawal dates, financial aid application and receipt, program of enrollment, and course taking.

Data Analytic Strategy: This project will rely on cross-cutting qualitative and quantitative investigation that yields policy-relevant information on implementation and outcomes associated with G3 programs at Virginia community colleges. For the quantitative portion, researchers will employ descriptive and quasi-experimental difference-in-difference and regression discontinuity methods. The quantitative analysis will also investigate features that may mediate or moderate the effect of G3, including the collegewide student profile (e.g., averages of student characteristics, cohort size, etc.), locale (e.g., region, population density, etc.), and economic indicators (such as local rate of unemployment, etc.). The implementation research team will use inductive analysis to examine and formulate findings from the raw data.