The Impact of ABS Program Participation on Long-Term Postsecondary Engagement
The Longitudinal Study of Adult Learning (LSAL) compared adult literacy development among program participants and nonparticipants across multiple contexts and over significant periods of time to provide a life-wide and lifelong perspective on adult literacy development and a better assessment of program impact on a range of outcome measures. LSAL randomly sampled about 1,000 high school dropouts and followed them for nearly a decade from 1998–2007. LSAL followed both participants and nonparticipants in Adult Basic Skills (ABS) programs, assessing their literacy skills and skill uses over long periods of time, along with changes in their social, educational, and economic status, offering a rich picture of adult literacy development.
Research Question: This report, the fourth of a series of Research Briefs that utilize LSAL data to examine long-term impacts of ABS program participation on a range of outcome measures, considers the following research question: What is the impact of participating in an ABS program on subsequent postsecondary engagement?
Results: ABS program participation has a robust impact on engagement in postsecondary education across a variety of participation measures and postsecondary engagement measures. With most measures, the overall rate of postsecondary engagement is higher among individuals who participated in ABS programs than among nonparticipants. Treatment effects models estimate the size of the impact of participation on the various measures of postsecondary engagement. The estimated impact of ABS participation on postsecondary engagement appears to be considerably larger in models using more intensive attendance criteria.
Limitations: The treatment effects models are based on propensity score matching to control selection bias, which relies on observable individual characteristics to match ABS participants and nonparticipants but does not control for unobserved individual characteristics.
Although ABS program evaluation and accountability reports typically show small gains for program participants in test scores and other outcomes, these studies rarely include comparison groups of nonparticipants, and most studies that do include such controls have not found statistically significant ABS program impact. Research is needed that compares long-term outcomes among program participants and nonparticipants across multiple contexts and over significant periods of time to provide a life-wide and lifelong perspective on adult literacy development and a better assessment of program impact on a range of outcome measures.