Providing support services for students improve educational and employment outcomes – a benefit for students, colleges, and employers.
Last month marked the end of four rounds of federal investments in community and technical colleges through the Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training Grant program. In this final round, we evaluated Wisconsin’s Advancing Careers and Training for Healthcare (ACT) consortium grant, a statewide project with participation from all colleges in the Wisconsin Technical College System (WTCS) to develop, improve, and expand education and training pathways for healthcare related occupations.
As part of the third-party evaluation, we conducted an impact study focused on grant participants enrolled in healthcare programs of study who received grant-funded support services, including academic and non-academic supports provided inside and outside the classroom. The Executive Summary of our evaluation can be found here; we also invite you to download the full report.
The delivery of support services was the most common strategy implemented across the consortium to improve participant outcomes. Approximately 70% of ACT for Healthcare participants in grant-funded programs, representing 2,297 students, received at least one grant-funded support service. Academic supports were more widespread across the consortium than non-academic supports, reaching a larger number of students. Academic supports delivered in class reached the largest number of participants (1,173 students) while out-of-class academic supports was the second largest support service type, reaching 785 participants. Grant-funded non-academic supports also reached a substantial number of participants; for example, non-academic supports delivered within classrooms reached 715 participants. It is important to note that many colleges implemented multiple support types; for example, a combination of academic and non-academic supports, or a combination of supports delivered both in-class and out-of-class. Of the nearly 2,300 participants receiving support services, one-third received more than one support service type.
A second reason for focusing the impact study on these participants is the growing national attention to the importance of support services for adult learners. The provision of academic and non-academic supports is an increasingly popular strategy pursued by community and technical colleges nationwide to boost success and completion rates for their students. According to recent estimates, fewer than 40% of community college students go on to earn a postsecondary credential of any kind within six years. Barriers to completion are often academic in nature, as an increasing proportion of students arrive to college academically unprepared. However, many community and technical college students also face challenges not directly related to academics, including balancing study with work, childcare, and other life responsibilities; financial pressures; personal health needs; and uncertainty regarding career goals, how college courses connect with job opportunities, and how to prepare and search for employment. The prominence of this issue is evidenced by the growing interest in #RealCollege – a national movement of researchers, practitioners, and policymakers catalyzed by the Hope Center for College, Community, and Justice at Temple University.
The evaluation results are quite strong:
√ 74% of treatment students earned a postsecondary credential, versus 51% for a matched comparison group.
√ Treatment students were eight percentage points more likely to be retained into the next semester, and seven percentage points more likely to be retained one year later, compared to a matched comparison group.
√ 45% of treatment students who were unemployed at the start of their program had gained employment one quarter after program exit, compared to 37% for a matched comparison group of non-incumbent workers.
√ Treatment students who were incumbent workers were six percentage points more likely to experience quarterly earnings gains following program exit, compared to a matched comparison group of incumbent workers.
In short, providing support services for healthcare students generates benefits for students, colleges, and employers—suggesting that this approach to enhanced education and training should be an essential aspect of institutional reform efforts with potential replicability to sectors beyond healthcare.
By investing in academic and non-academic support services, colleges can increase the number of students with the skills needed to enter the labor market prepared for employment and upward mobility; while enhancing their revenue through improved institutional retention and completion rates. Moreover, these supports help colleges better serve adult students who need additional skills and re-training, and who reflect an increasingly diverse pool of potential students and workers.
Derek V. Price