The study took place at three public community colleges in Washington state: Bellingham Technical College, Everett Community College, and Whatcom Community College.
Thirty-one percent of students had less than a high school diploma or equivalent, and 58 percent of students were female. Approximately 10 percent reported having attended one or more years of college. Study participants also had low income and were older than traditional college students: almost two-thirds of students (63 percent) were age 25 or older. Slightly more than half (55 percent) were non-Hispanic White, and about one quarter (26 percent) identified as Latino or Hispanic. Two-thirds (67 percent) of study participants were not working at the time of random assignment, with only 13 percent working 35 hours or more.
The I-BEST program includes courses that are part of a structured pathway. Integrated team-teaching of basic skills and occupational skills was done in most courses on the pathway. Team teaching took several forms. In some courses, the basic skills instructor sat in class with students and stopped the occupational instructor to ask clarifying questions or to explain a concept further. In other courses, the basic skills instructor would either deliver a designated portion of the instruction, or would jointly deliver instruction with the occupational instructor.
I-BEST students had access to dedicated advisors, called navigators, who provided guidance on academic issues, helped students navigate the college’s procedures, and helped with career planning. I-BEST also provided “fill the gap” funds for books, tools, other course materials, or transportation. This funding ensured that all members of the intervention group would pay no tuition.
Comparison group members could not access I-BEST programs and courses at the three colleges; however, they could access other education and training opportunities available to them, including non-I-BEST courses and I-BEST programs at other colleges. Both intervention and comparison group members could access general college advising, tutoring, and financial aid services that were available to all students at the colleges. Both intervention and comparison group members could potentially access financial support through Pell grants, Washington State’s Opportunity Grants, Washington’s Basic Food Employment and Training (BFET) program, veteran’s benefits, and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), depending on eligibility. Both intervention and comparison group members could access their college’s employment and job placement services designed to help program completers find jobs. Whether they enrolled in college classes or not, they also could access other employment assistance in the community, such as the job search and job readiness services at local American Job Centers.
Support for implementation
I-BEST was designed by the Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges (SBCTC) and operates at all 34 public community and technical colleges in the state. The three colleges included in this study received additional funding for program enhancements from the Open Society Foundations.