Presents findings from a cost-benefit analysis that uses quasi-experimental methods to estimate the social and student-level returns of a career technical education initiative conducted at 32 community and technical colleges in Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, and Louisiana.

“Accelerating Opportunity (AO) was an initiative to help adults with low basic skills earn industry-recognized credentials in high-growth occupations and succeed in the labor market. AO offered low-skill students, regardless of whether they had a high school credential, the opportunity to enroll in career and technical education (CTE) pathways at two-year colleges without the usual prerequisites….The [authors] conducted a mixed-methods evaluation to document AO implementation, estimate its impacts on participants’ education and employment outcomes, and assess whether the effort yielded greater benefits than costs over time.

This report discusses the findings of the cost-benefit analysis (CBA) of AO in the four evaluation states: Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, and Louisiana. It compares the value of the benefits associated with AO—principally labor market benefits—with the value of the costs of the program. The benefits of AO are estimated using standard quasi-experimental methods….The costs of the program were collected in a cost survey sent out to participating colleges that were running AO for all three program years and from grant reporting and follow-up discussions with state offices….

The report…answers two distinct research questions:

  1. What is the dollar value of the net student benefit of AO?
  2. What is the dollar value of the net social benefit of AO?” (p.1-2).

“The CBA considers two different perspectives: (1) the ‘social perspective,’ which incorporates the costs and benefits experienced by all members of society; and (2) the ‘student perspective’, which considers costs and benefits from the perspective of the student. Social costs include college resource expenditures on AO, supports provided by colleges to AO students, and state administrative and oversight costs. Social benefits consist of the earnings gains of AO participants relative to similar students who did not participate in AO. Student costs are their actual expenditures as well as any forgone earnings” (p.2).

(Abstractor: Author)

Major Findings & Recommendations

“Summary of Key Results: • Per-student net student benefits were positive for three of the four AO states: Illinois ($705), Kansas ($4,030), and Louisiana ($1,639). However, per-student net student benefits were negative for Kentucky (-$305). These net student benefits suggest that participants in Illinois, Kansas, and Louisiana are economically better off for participating in AO. • Only Kansas achieved positive net social benefits from AO (meaning that the social returns outweighed the costs). The state incurred a relatively low cost per student of delivering AO of per student ($2,717), but a much higher per-student benefit of $4,129. • None of the other three states generated positive net social benefits. While Louisiana’s costs per student were somewhat lower than Kansas’s, the benefits associated with AO in Louisiana were not large enough that the program produced a positive net gain. Illinois and Kentucky had the highest costs of delivering AO and the lowest benefits associated with the AO program” (p.2). “The CBA finds that AO was only a good social investment in its first three years of operation in one of the four evaluation states. In the other three states, the program’s net social benefit was negative despite it demonstrating positive impacts on educational outcomes and mixed impacts on earnings outcomes” (p.3-4). “The results also provide [valuable insight] about creating credentials and targeting them as a performance measure rather than the ultimate labor market outcomes that help participants to achieve self-sufficiency….One opportunity for improving the AO model is to require greater employer involvement in the planning and operation of AO programs, to ensure that program activities are well-targeted to the labor markets that participants will be entering upon completion” (p.8). “[T]he program had a considerable impact on the operation of participating colleges. AO refocused colleges on the needs of low-skill students and provided an evidence-based model for serving those students….[I]f these systems changes are sustained at participating colleges, then the initial AO investments may provide benefits to future students that are not included in this analysis” (p.8). (Abstractor: Author and Website Staff)