A Meta-Analysis of 46 Career Pathways Impact Evaluations

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A Meta-Analysis of 46 Career Pathways Impact Evaluations

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The career pathways approach to workforce development emerged to help workers with lower levels of formal education advance to better paying jobs by earning in-demand postsecondary credentials. The approach involves articulated steps of education, training, and jobs within an industry sector or occupational cluster, combined with other services and employer connections to support participant success. To advance the evidence base in the career pathways field, the Descriptive & Analytical Career Pathways Project (D&A CP Project) includes three sub-studies, each addressing different evidence gaps through distinct data sources and methods.

The D&A CP Project Meta-Analysis Study is designed to answer two research questions: (1) What is the overall impact of the career pathways approach on participants’ educational progress and labor market outcomes?, and (2) Which characteristics of career pathways programs are most closely associated with impacts? To answer these questions, this meta-analysis summarizes 46 impact evaluations that focus on programs that embed elements of the career pathways approach. The programs that are at the center of the 46 evaluations in this meta-analysis are diverse across a wide variety of dimensions—including what they offer, how they provide those offerings, who they serve, and their local contexts.

Based on robust evidence, the meta-analysis reports the average impacts from these 46 evaluations, revealing that the career pathways approach leads to large educational progress gains, large gains in industry-specific employment, small gains in general employment, small gains in short-term earnings, and no meaningful gains in medium/longer-term earnings. Additional, exploratory analyses identify some factors that appear to be associated with smaller or larger impacts in the evaluated programs.

The Meta-Analysis Study deliverables include a brief and comprehensive report and public use data. Additionally, the D&A CP Project produced a career pathways timeline as well as an early brief describing highlights from a scan of the research and an accompanying research and evaluation matrix.

The other two sub-studies in the D&A CP Project include a Career Trajectories and Occupational Transitions (CTOT) Study and Machine Learning Study.