What Works for Adult Learners: Lessons from Career Pathway Evaluations

This report presents the results of a systematic examination of rigorous evaluation studies to determine what is known about the impact of career pathways on adults seeking to attain a living-wage career.

Debra Bragg
Erica Acevedo
Nate Anderson
Barbara Endel
Lisa Soricone
Author(s) Organizational Affiliation
University of Washington
Publication Year
Resource Type
Number of Pages

A limited but growing body of rigorous evaluation studies examines how career pathways influence student success. Based on experimental or quasi-experimental studies, this growing body of results shows that career pathway participants are employed and retained in employment at higher rates and attain higher wages and annual earnings than students with similar characteristics who enroll in training that does not use a career pathway approach. They also earn entry-level credentials and gain basic skills at higher rates than the comparison group. The results make a case for scaling career pathways to reach many more adult learners. Persuasive evidence shows that well-designed career pathways can improve academic, employment, and income outcomes for adults.

Descriptive Research
What the experts say

This is a well-written and concise review of rigorous research in the adult education career pathway field. The findings and recommendations are positive, and in general, validate existing best practice knowledge/research about successful implementation of career pathway programming. Together they provide a big picture, systems change framework for adult education stakeholders in their pathways implementation and scaling considerations. 

The authors provide a unique and simplified model for understanding career pathway outcomes. These outcomes are grouped into three categories: Pathway Entry, Integrated Training, and Career Progression. For each of the outcome areas, results are synthesized from career pathway studies into results linked to pathway implementation and results linked to impact on the participants. Adult educators will find these implementation and impact results enlightening as there are many positive results noted as well as some results that show null or negative impacts of career pathway implementation. Adult educators and policy makers will find the recommendations with regard to practice and policy useful as these recommendations are evidence-based and flow logically from the synthesis of multiple, credible career pathway studies/evaluations.

Although the study recommendations are practical and insightful, they lack embellishment with regard to a description or link to specific best practices (i.e., concrete examples) that could give the reader insight into actualizing the recommendations.

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