New Research Uncovers the Possibilities and Benefits of Traditional and Non-Traditional Career Education Programs

NORC at the University of Chicago and American Institutes for Research received funding to examine the comparative value of education and training programs

April 27, 2021

By Patrick Bourke, program officer, Career Readiness

Record unemployment levels brought on by the pandemic have created a renewed interest in upskilling or reskilling Americans as a way to help get people back to work. How to provide the needed education and training is up for debate. Some believe there is great opportunity for nontraditional alternative education providers, such as coding bootcamps and employer led training programs, to offer training designed to help those find gainful employment or earn a promotion. Conversely, others are more supportive of more traditional higher education providers such regionally accredited community and technical colleges.

ECMC Foundation’s Career Readiness (CR) portfolio has built their strategy on the latter belief that pathways that are credit-bearing and transferable from one institution to another are most likely to confer strong long-term outcomes for adults learners because they are more likely to set students along an upwardly mobile path, which could lead to an associate or bachelor’s degree. In 2018, the CR team put their strategy to the test and issued a request for proposal looking for researchers interested in understanding the long-term impact of credit-bearing and transferrable programs compared to non-credit and non-portable programs.

The CR team identified two organizations with different approaches to take on this work. American Institutes for Research received funding to analyze outcomes in this research using 20 years of data from National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (NLSY) from the same cohort of participants who have been surveyed regularly since 1997. NORC at the University of Chicago (NORC) received funding to engage in qualitative interviews and conduct the Survey of Educational Attainment (SEA) to better understand the value of accredited and portable training as opposed to non-accredited and/or non-portable.

The results of both studies unearthed that greater research is needed to understand the field. AIR’s research found that that credit-bearing credentials significantly improved earnings of approximately $5,500 a year. NORC’s study revealed that the majority of the recent trainings that workers reported in the survey were from non-accredited and/or non-portable sources, but their satisfaction was related to whether they considered the training to be useful and to be relevant to their current job, and not the source of the training.

While these studies did not offer the definitive answer on which form of education and training is best, they both highlighted that some training beyond high school is beneficial. These findings are supported by the large body of research from the Bureau for Labor Statistics that shows that progressive educational attainment is associated with higher long-term wage gains. These studies also revealed that more data is needed for students making informed decisions, practitioners offering programming, and policymakers allocating funding. The CR team will continue to support initiatives that improve data quality and programs that make it easiest for students to continue along their educational journey to earning an academic credential and securing employment with a family sustaining-wage.


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