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Nov 21 -- The Institute of Education Sciences (IES), Department of Education (ED), invites public comment by January 22, 2024 regarding the  Connecting Adults to Success: Career Navigator Training Study.

The Institute of Education Sciences within the U.S. Department of Education requests clearance for a revision to the Connecting Adults to Success: Evaluation of Career Navigator Training (1850–0973, approved on July 18, 2022). This demonstration study examines the impact of training for career navigators—local adult education provider staff who provide services to address the challenges that learners face navigating the transition to the workforce and to further education and training. The study compares the education and employment outcomes of learners enrolled in adult education sites whose career navigators are assigned by lottery to receive the study's training (the treatment group) with the outcomes of learners enrolled in the business-as-usual sites who are assigned by lottery to receive the study's training after the study period (the comparison group). Approximately 64 adult education sites nationally are participating in the study. Impacts on learners' education and employment outcomes will be examined after 18 and 30 months.

The revision is for the purpose of shifting one component of the approved data collection plan—frequent adult education career navigator-completed logs—to add a single follow-up survey to ensure the study can still examine whether the training leads to changes in these practices. The survey is now needed because of concerns about low response rates and data quality from early rounds of those logs.

The Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) of 2014, which authorizes funding for adult education programs to help low-skilled adults succeed in the workforce and become more productive and engaged citizens, mandates that ED carry out rigorous research and evaluation to identify effective adult education services. A recent evidence review revealed that existing research provides little guidance on effective approaches for improving outcomes for adult learners (Borradaile et al., 2020). This study will help expand the evidence base.

A key goal of the Adult Education and Family Literacy Act—Title II of WIOA—is to help adult learners connect with and move along career pathways. The legislation aims to contribute to a more competitive workforce by providing learners with skills and support to succeed in the labor market and to fulfill the labor demands of employers. To achieve this goal, adult education programs guide and support learners as they transition to further education, training, or employment.

One strategy to support learners is to employ designated staff whose explicit and primary role is to advise them in career and college planning. These staff—often referred to as career navigators—assist learners with selecting and applying for appropriate course work to progress on a career path, developing work and education plans, and transitioning to next steps. Career navigators provide counseling to learners and develop partnerships with the workforce development system to help facilitate learner transitions.

Career navigators are common in adult education programs. Several states, such as South Carolina and Georgia, require that local adult education providers have career navigators. But even in states without such a requirement, navigators can be found in many programs. Across states, career navigators are particularly common among adult education providers that offer certain types of programming, such as integrated education and training programs.

Career navigation services have not been tested in rigorous studies on their own but have been a component of some promising strategies emerging from adult education research. One study of a bridge program that included career navigation services found statistically significant positive impacts on completing high school, enrolling in college, and progressing in college (Martin and Broadus 2013). A rigorous evaluation of an integrated education and training program that included career navigation services found the program had statistically significant impacts on post-program employment and earnings (Modicamore et al. 2017). Similarly, a national evaluation of WIOA-funded intensive services comprising case management and one-on-one counseling to job seekers found significant impacts on participation in training programs and subsequent labor market outcomes (Fortson et al. 2017). A recent synthesis of evidence on career pathways concluded that case management and navigation are key components of effective “pathway entry” programs to retain adult learners in basic skills classes as well as in “integrated education” programs to progress adult learners through training into employment (Bragg et al. 2019).

Although career navigation services have promise for improving outcomes for adult learners, evidence is sparse on how to ensure that career navigators offer high quality, consistent support. One strategy—the focus of this study—is offering training to career navigators. The study will test two trainings, both of which include online instruction paired with additional activities. They are:

-- The National College Transition Network at World Education, Inc.’s Navigating Pathways to Opportunity: Comprehensive Student Supports
-- The National Career Development Association’s Facilitating Career Development Training Course

The two trainings were selected for the study based on their content and delivery features, and because they are offered by organizations that could implement the trainings across a large number of sites during the study period. Promising content and delivery features for study trainings were identified during the design phase of the project, which included a literature scan and interviews with stakeholders in the field (ICR Reference No. 1850-0947). This work identified key competencies for career navigators that are important for supporting adult learners. It also identified training delivery features that enhance learning and application for career navigators, such as engaging over multiple training sessions and including experiential learning. The two selected trainings include content that aim to develop the identified competencies and include promising delivery features.

The purpose of the current study is to evaluate the effectiveness of career navigator training that has the potential to improve learner outcomes. The study will be a randomized controlled trial (RCT) in which all career navigators associated with an adult education provider are randomly assigned to a treatment group that receives access to one of two career navigation trainings or to a comparison group that receives delayed training two years later. Participating sites will have the option to indicate a preference for a training before they are randomly assigned to the treatment or comparison group. To estimate the impacts of training for career navigators, the study team will compare the outcomes of learners who are enrolled at providers that received access to the training during the study period to the outcomes of learners enrolled at providers in the comparison group, which did not have access to the training during the study period.

IES contracted with Mathematica and its partners—Manhattan Strategy Group and Social Policy Research Associates (together, “the study team”)—to conduct this study.

To answer the research questions, the study will use administrative data, interviews, and surveys (Exhibit A.2). The data collection plan includes (1) measures of implementation of the career navigation training; (2) measures of the provision of navigation and related services to learners; (3) mediating variables for learners, such as program attendance and measures of basic skills; (4) longer-term outcomes of learners such as educational attainment, employment, and earnings; and (5) contextual (moderating) factors that could affect the implementation or impacts of the training, such as the type of provider.

Understanding Career Navigators and How to Support Their Success: https://www.mathematica.org/news/understanding-career-navigators-and-how-to-support-their-success
Brief on Career Navigators in Adult Education: https://aefla.ed.gov/announcements/newly-released-brief-career-navigators-adult-education
Draft data collection instrument and technical documentation: https://www.regulations.gov/docket/ED-2023-SCC-0195/document
FRN: https://www.federalregister.gov/d/2023-25678

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