Career Pathways Initiative

NEW! HHS Research Project Releases Working Paper on Career Pathways Evaluation

Posted by Andrala Walker - On July 16, 2012 (EST)

NEW! HHS Research Project Releases Working Paper on Career Pathways Evaluation

In May 2012, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services released its first working paper on career pathways evaluation.  The paper presents a framework for evaluating career pathways programs and discusses some of the considerations in designing evaluations that use random assignment methods to measure these programs’ impacts. It reflects work in progress on the first national evaluation of career pathways programs: the Innovative Strategies for Increasing Self-Sufficiency (ISIS) evaluation. Commissioned by the Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation in the federal Administration for Children and Families (ACF) within the Department of Health and Human Services, ISIS is conducting random assignment evaluations of nine career pathway programs around the nation.

Career pathways is gaining steady acceptance as an integrative framework for promising approaches to post-secondary education and training for low-income and low-skill adults. Its central thesis is that instruction should be organized as a series of manageable and well-articulated steps, accompanied by strong supports and connections to employment. The steps provide opportunities for pre-collegelevel students to access college-level training and for better-skilled students to move to successively higher levels of credential-bearing training and employment. Each step is designed to incorporate customized curricula and instruction, academic and non-academic supports, and employment experiences and opportunities.

This framework is being used both to design discrete programs and to foster more systemic change. Programs—whose evaluation is the focus of this paper—typically concentrate on a subset of steps and embody varying service strategies. Systemic change initiatives entail wider-scale institutional realignments and coordination, seeking to weave together larger webs of program and resources into
seamless pathways whose diverse contributing sources are transparent from the student’s perspective.
The career pathways model is relatively new, and its effectiveness—and the effectiveness of most of its components—have not been rigorously evaluated. Effectiveness research often is not the first priority in the early years of an innovation, and career pathways poses special challenges for evaluation design. The underlying model is complex and multifaceted. Thus far it has been articulated loosely for description and promotion but not specified as a tighter framework capable of guiding research.

The paper begins with an overview of career pathways, describing the basic model and giving a brief account of its origins. Next, it catalogues some of the principal intervention strategies included in career pathways models and illustrates how several programs participating in ISIS varyingly embody these strategies. The paper then introduces a broad theory of change for career pathways— identifying the primary and intermediate outcomes targeted and tracing the linkages between key program inputs and these outcomes. These domains help to define and systematize priority outcomes to measure in research on career pathways programs.  To read this groundbreaking working paper, go to

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Modified On : July 16, 2012
Type : Post
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