The Arkansas Career Pathways Initiative: Phase One Research Results
Since 2006, more than 30,000 low-income Arkansans have participated in the Arkansas Career Pathways Initiative (CPI) at 25 community and technical colleges across the state. Supported by federal Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) funds, CPI participants receive education and training with case management support helping them acquire degrees and/or certificates leading to high-demand and higher wage jobs.
In 2015, a phased evaluation began to determine whether CPI is successfully lifting Arkansas families out of poverty and providing a return on investment to the state. The first phase found that:
- 52% of students who participated in CPI programs completed at least one higher education academic certificate or degree compared to 24% of non-CPI community college students in Arkansas.
- 62% of CPI students who enrolled at an Arkansas community college in 2008 completed at least one degree or certificate by 2013, while 39% of community college students nationwide completed an Associate Degree.
- Six times as many CPI participants who enrolled in 2011 had earned Associate Degrees than their Arkansas community college peers.
- Three times as many CPI participants earned a Certificate of Proficiency or Technical Certificate than their community college counterparts.
- In the twelve months after leaving college, CPI participants earned $3,100 more per year than a matched pool of TANF participants from their same locality.
- Temporary Employment Assistance (TEA) clients who received cash stipends and were enrolled in CPI earned $731 more than their TANF counterparts in the first year after completing the program.
- The wage gap between CPI and non-CPI community college participants narrowed from $6,432 to $1,584 a year.
Questions to be addressed in future phases of the research study include:
- Do educational and behavioral benefits accrue to the children of parents who successfully complete an educational pathway and find good employment.
- Is there a correlation between treatment interventions and subsequent student success.
- Does participation in CPI contribute to greater success in developmental education, and increased mobility leading to improved economic opportunity among disadvantaged populations.
- What is the return on investment (ROI) is to the state of Arkansas in terms of increased taxes, and reduced public assistance needs, etc.
The evidence thus far shows that the Arkansas Career Pathways Initiative is making a significant contribution to the economic stability and opportunities available to the low-income Arkansans who've participated in the program. The CPI could be a national model if future evaluations support the findings of this study. However, this document reads like an executive summary, rather than a full evaluation. For instance, general comments are made such as “research shows.” The authors note that data was obtained from a variety of state agencies without providing a reference or citation. This comment applies to both the descriptive and the quasi-experimental aspects of the report.
This evaluation has very important data but there is clearly a need for more research and deeper analysis. More rigorous research methods will be required in future phases of the evaluation.