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Improvement Testing in the Year Up Professional Training Corps Program: Final Grant Report

David Fein, Abt Global; Rebecca Maynard, University of Pennsylvania


October 26, 2022

The original version of Year Up’s training program – a program for young adults from low-income communities -- has shown remarkable success. A landmark Abt Global study found annual earnings gains of around $8,000 lasting at least seven years. Would the same approach work in college settings, where it might be more readily scaled? Early indications are that achieving comparable results will be challenging but may be possible.

A new Abt report provides findings from two small studies of Year Up’s college-based Professional Training Corps (PTC). PTC taps instructors and other college resources and thus is potentially less expensive and more scalable than the original free-standing program (where Year Up covers all costs).

Researchers designed these studies to 1) provide an early gauge of PTC’s overall impacts and 2) test an enhancement addressing a known shortfall in program retention. The project sought to inform work on a still developing program, rather than provide a final verdict on the underlying model. It illustrates how randomized controlled trials can play a valuable role in improvement research.

The main finding from Study 1 was that PTC increased neither average earnings nor average months of college enrollment during the two years following the program.

In a separate sample of program participants, Study 2 found encouraging results when program staff provided enhanced coaching to a random subset of young adults. The enhancements, which focused on increasing attention to academic difficulties in college classes, were implemented to see if they would boost retention compared with young adults who received the standard coaching approach.

For the full sample, enhanced coaching generated a 10-percentage point increase in completion of PTC’s initial six-month training phase. Despite increased retention, impacts on post-program earnings and college enrollment mostly were statistically insignificant for the overall sample.

The results showed a sharp increase in favorable impacts between cohorts—suggesting that the refinements were effectual. Most notably, while the analysis found no gains in post-program earnings impacts for the first cohort, it showed large positive increases for the second. 

One takeaway from Study 2 is that enhanced coaching appears to be a promising improvement strategy. Another, in the authors’ words, is that “multiple rounds of design and refinement may be needed to achieve desired outcomes for improvement strategies.”

The report identifies several priorities for follow-on research:

  • Replicate the enhanced coaching study to see if promising results can be obtained on a wider scale
  • Run similar tests for other enhancements to Year Up strategies under development
  • Conduct larger summative evaluations of PTC and other newer models once they reach their intended steady states.

This publication is one of a series of reports supported by grants from the Institutes for Educational Sciences, Social Innovation Fund, and Arnold Ventures.