This brief analyzes the impact of Appalachia Partnership Initiative (API) investments in K–12 STEM education, energy and advanced manufacturing workforce development, and community building. It is the second interim assessment of the API progress. This report should be of interest to those seeking to understand how network analyses can help advance regional innovation.

The growth in energy production in the tri-state Appalachia region (southwestern Pennsylvania, northern West Virginia, and eastern Ohio) has spurred a demand for hiring workers proficient in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics fields. This has created a focus on the importance of having high-quality K–12 STEM education in the tri-state region, as well as on policies and programs to enable the supply of labor in STEM occupations and career fields to keep pace with evolving demand. Recognizing the workforce and education challenges facing the energy and advanced manufacturing industries in the region, the Appalachia Partnership Initiative (API) was launched in 2014 and is committed to supporting K–12 STEM education and STEM workforce development programs to educate and train local adult workers.

The vision of the API is to promote “a sustainable regional energy and manufacturing education and employment ecosystem that supports the region’s broader economic development.” The API does this by investing in innovative and strategically selected K–12 STEM education and workforce development programs. While it is still too early to assess student outcomes, API K–12 STEM education programs were strategically aligned with the API logic model.

The study considered four questions and answered these questions through quantitative indicators and interviews:

  1. Strategic alignment: How did the API K–12 STEM education programs and activities evolve and adapt to meet the API’s vision and strategy?
  2. Beneficiaries: What was the geographic scope of API K–12 STEM education programs, and which beneficiaries did the programs reach?
  3. Implementation: How were API K–12 STEM education programs implemented? How sustainable were these programs?
  4. Community catalyst: What steps did API leadership take to catalyze a community of stakeholders to work toward similar goals related to K–12 STEM education?

The report provides data to support that API programs:

  • Targeted a wide range of students
  • Reached lower-income students, girls, and students in rural communities
  • Adapted implementation approaches to address challenges and maintain a consistent vision
  • Addressed gaps in school, student, and employer resources
  • Provided teacher professional development with collaboration with businesses
  • Required coordinated funding
  • Collaborated with one another, even across states

(This 31-page brief, written by The RAND Corporation, analyzes data collected from 2014 to 2017.)

Major Findings & Recommendations

The programs progressed from planning to implementation, evolved based on needs and experience, and expanded in size and partnerships throughout the program evolution.

The following data was significant to the study:

  • From October 2014 to December 2017, program administrators reported that 48 percent of K–12 students reached by the programs were low income, 47 percent were females, and 42 percent attended school in rural communities.
  • Strategies to promote financial and programmatic sustainability included maintaining low program costs; finding other revenue streams; writing services into grants; charging for services when possible; and applying for additional funding from other funding sources.
  • Teacher professional development was a key aspect of API investment. From October 2014 to December 2017, 2,225 teachers received training by API-funded programs. Training included informal education, project-based education, collaboration with businesses, and implementing STEM curricula. However, there were challenges in offering teacher professional development as well.
  • API programs and leaders engaged in regional, state, and national STEM education initiatives and policy discussions, although they operated individually rather than with a common strategy. API K--12 STEM programs collaborated with one another, and the number of local partnerships and partnerships across state lines increased.

The following is recommended as a result of the study:

  • Continue to make efforts to connect grantees' visions and goals with the strategic vision of the API.
  • Assess the extent to which API programs are achieving desired student outcomes by assessing progress based on metrics that are aligned with API logic models.
  • Gauge participants' perceptions and awareness of STEM careers and API programs.
  • Undertake an exercise to map pathways between K–12 education and middle-skill jobs.
  • Develop the API's role in catalyzing the regional community in a common strategy, as the API could benefit from a more coordinated strategy for its initiatives.
  • Coordinate funding opportunities among API leaders and the wider donor community.
  • Build more extensive tri-state partnerships and initiatives, building on foundations already in place through the API and other initiatives.
  • Measure the impact of these efforts on student achievement in STEM and entrance into STEM college and career pathways as time passes, in addition to studying process measures of the first few years of the API.