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Assessing Evidence of Effectiveness in Adult Education: Study of Career Navigator Training

Contract Information

Current Status:



September 2018 – December 2027



Contract Number:



Mathematica Policy Research
Manhattan Strategy Group
Social Policy Research Associates



Improving the skills and career pathways of the many adults who struggle with literacy, numeracy, and English proficiency is the key goal of federal adult education policy. Title II of the 2014 Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act encourages state agencies and local providers to find ways to facilitate postsecondary enrollment, credential attainment and higher earnings for the nearly one million learners who participate in adult education programs. One promising approach is providing these learners with career navigators—dedicated staff whose role is to advise learners in career and college planning and to help them address challenges as they follow through on their plans. Navigators can be a significant expense for adult education providers, but the staff often receive little training despite their diverse backgrounds and thus may not be equipped with the knowledge and skills needed to effectively guide learners. The study will test whether providing a promising model of training to navigators leads to improvements in their learners' postsecondary, employment and earnings outcomes.

  • Can providing training to career navigators improve adult learners' college enrollment and credential attainment rates? Can it improve learners' employment rates and earnings?
  • What types of services do career navigators typically provide, and does the training change either the nature or intensity of services in ways that explain any impacts on learners' outcomes?

This impact study involves approximately 65 adult education sites. About half of the sites were assigned by lottery to a group in which the site's career navigators received training provided by the study. Career navigators in the remaining sites will not receive the study's training until after the study period is over. Using records obtained from the program providers and other agencies, the study will assess learners' college enrollment, credential attainment, employment status, and earnings at approximately 18 and 30 months after learners begin participating in the study. The study will also survey career navigators at the start of the study in order to collect descriptive information on the types of navigation services typically provided and to whom those services are typically targeted. Through the collection of service logs during the study, information to understand how the training might influence the navigation services provided and the targeting of those services will be obtained. This study builds on an earlier systematic evidence review that summarized findings from existing studies of adult education strategies and identified gaps in the knowledge base.

A snapshot titled Adult Education Strategies: Identifying and Building Evidence of Effectiveness was released in April 2021.

A snapshot on the backgrounds of career navigators and the services they provide is expected in 2024 and will be announced on

A review of existing studies of the effectiveness of adult education strategies conducted during the design phase of the study found:

  • There has been little rigorous research on whether particular strategies in adult education improve learner outcomes.
  • The rigorous research that has been conducted does not address the full set of outcome areas that federal policy emphasizes. Studies measuring basic skills such as literacy did not measure longer-term outcomes such as credential attainment and earnings. Studies that investigated longer-term outcomes did not measure basic skills.
  • The available evidence provides limited support for the use of particular adult education strategies over others, although bridge classes and integrated education and training programs offer some promise.