The Valley Initiative for Development and Advancement (VIDA) program is one of nine career pathways programs being evaluated under the Pathways for Advancing Careers and Education (PACE) study sponsored by the Administration for Children and Families. This brief summarizes the implementation and early impacts of the VIDA, a program that aims to meet the needs of low-income students and local employers for skilled workers.

VIDA aimed to address employers’ needs for skilled workers and link unemployed and underemployed individuals with high skilled, high wage jobs identified in the region. VIDA’s primary goal is for participants to graduate with an associate’s degree or an industry-recognized certificate and find employment that pays a living wage in their field of study. VIDA supports full-time enrollment at local colleges through required attendance at weekly intensive counseling sessions, as well as through substantial financial assistance. For participants who are not college-ready, VIDA offers an accelerated basic skills academy.

The VIDA program randomly assigned 958 study participants to either the treatment group or the control group. Study participants were older than traditional college students and economically disadvantaged, but had fairly high levels of educational attainment, in line with VIDA’s eligibility requirements. The following approaches were implemented:

  • Screening carefully for individuals with the capacity, motivation, and commitment to attend school full-time;
  • Assessing each individual’s financial need to determine that VIDA’s financial assistance will make a difference in the individual’s ability to attend school (VIDA spent an average of almost $7,000 in direct financial assistance per participant within 24 months of study enrollment, primarily for tuition and school-related expenses); and
  • Providing substantial financial assistance coupled with mandatory participation in counseling.

The primary research questions asked during the evaluation include the following:

  1. What was the actual implementation of the intervention? Did it deviate from plans or expectations?
  2. What were the students’ participation patterns and experiences with program services?
  3. What were the main effects of VIDA on educational attainment, including college credits received, credentials received, and other educational outcomes?

Major Findings & Recommendations

Early results show no program impacts on employment. Although the program resulted in more treatment group members than control group members enrolling in occupational training and earning more credentials, the treatment group was not more likely to be employed at 24 months after study enrollment.

Forty-two percent of treatment group members were still enrolled in training at 24 months after study enrollment, which might explain why impacts on employment were not observed.

Among those still attending training, about half were still working toward a credential; the other half had obtained a credential, which suggests that they continued in their educational pathway to attain further certificates or degrees.

The study found that the VIDA program:

  1. Significantly increased the total number of college credits earned within a 24-month follow-up period;
  2. Increased rates of full-time college enrollment, enrollment more generally and summer school enrollment; and
  3. Increased the attainment of college credentials.