Jobs for the Future - What Works for Adult Learners: Lessons from Career Pathway Evaluations

Jobs For the Future (JFF) has published What Works for Adult Learners: Lessons from Career Pathway Evaluations, drawing on research findings to describe the core elements of high-quality career pathway programs.   

The following is excerpted from the full report:

A limited but growing body of rigorous evaluation studies examines how career pathways influence student success. JFF set out to systematically examine these studies with the goal of answering one essential question: What do we know about the impact of career pathways on adults seeking to attain a living-wage career?   JFF researchers and colleagues from other leading organizations reviewed the evidence from programs that enrolled diverse adult learner populations from 2010 to 2017.  The first section of this brief describes the core elements of career pathway programs and systems. The remainder of the report presents research results, conclusions, and recommendations. 

  • Positive and significant impact is associated with pathway entry that enables students to attain an industry-recognized credential that is aligned with local employment.
  • Positive and significant impact is associated with integrated training that is skills focused, college-credit bearing, and strongly linked to well-paying, middle-skill jobs.
  • ***Limited evidence exists on the impact of career progression on student-level education and employment.

***Only five evaluation studies included any outcome measures pertaining to time periods extensive enough to track impact on longer-term education and employment.  Results of four of the five evaluations of career progression show no difference in college enrollment following participation in an initial career pathway program, or in earning a subsequent college credential, relative to the control/comparison group.

Our field needs further collaborative research by career pathways program managers and adult education researchers, in order to better understand the longitudinal impact of career pathways on learners.