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Helping Low-Skilled Adults Obtain College Credentials

Abt Global Evaluation of I-BEST Shows Promising Results

ROCKVILLE, Md.–Low-skilled adults without a high school diploma often have difficulty meeting college entry requirements to train for in-demand jobs -- a major barrier to improving their poor employment prospects. Results from a new rigorous study of Washington State’s Integrated Basic Education and Skills Training (I-BEST) program show promise in addressing this critical problem. The study shows I-BEST resulted in large increases in college enrollment, credit attainment, and credential receipt for adults with limited skills who would not otherwise qualify for college.  

The I-BEST program operates in all of Washington’s 34 community and technical colleges and is widely recognized as a promising national model. The evaluation by Abt Global is the first one of I-BEST to use a randomized controlled trial design and thus provides evidence that results are due to the program and not some other factor.

I-BEST provides occupational training in defined pathways in a number of in-demand industries. A core component of the program is “team teaching,” in which a basic skills instructor and an occupational instructor are teaching together for at least 50 percent of occupational training class time.     

The impact study measured effects on educational outcomes about two years after study enrollment.

Key highlights:

  • Students randomly assigned to the study’s treatment group (those who could enroll in I-BEST) were significantly more likely than the control group to:
    • Attend college courses, particularly occupational training courses.
    • Complete “gatekeeper” college math and English classes essential for entering higher-level college courses.
  • Treatment group students earned twice as many college credits, a key benchmark of program success.
  • The program more than tripled completion of certificates and credentials.

Later reports will examine intermediate and long-term effects, including employment and earnings gains.

The evaluation of the I-BEST program was conducted in partnership with MEF Associates. It was part of the broader Pathways for Advancing Careers and Education (PACE) study funded by the Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation in the Administration for Children and Families, Department of Health and Human Services.

Read the full report.


About Abt Global
Abt Global is an engine for social impact, dedicated to moving people from vulnerability to security.  Harnessing the power of data and our experts’ insights, we provide research, consulting and technical services globally in the areas of health, environmental and social policy, technology and international development.

Amy Dunaway
(301) 347-5056

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