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Creating Access Pathways for Parents: A Transformational Approach to Supporting Attainment Among An Underserved Audience

The EvoLLLution | Creating Access Pathways for Parents: A Transformational Approach to Supporting Attainment Among An Underserved Audience
Creating access pathways to low-income parents creates opportunities for individuals to transform the lives of themselves and their families.
The Arkansas Career Pathways Initiative (CPI) was launched in 2005 by state leaders who combined efforts to help low-income parents access education and training programs that lead to meaningful, family-supporting careers. The program is administered by the Arkansas Department of Higher Education and funded with federal Transitional Aid to Needy Families (TANF) dollars through the Arkansas Department of Workforce Services.

Since its inception, more than 30,000 low-income parents have participated in CPI at 25 community colleges and university technical centers across the state.

Who is Eligible?

To be eligible for the program, CPI participants must be custodial parents, eligible for public assistance through TANF, or be at 250 percent or below the federal poverty level. In addition to education and training for in-demand careers, participants receive personalized case management, tutoring, mentoring, and financial support including help with tuition and books and, when appropriate, childcare vouchers or gas cards. Funds for the program are allocated at an average of $1,500 per student.

Understanding the Impact

Given increased national attention on this unique student support program, and the availability of a comprehensive database tracking outcomes of 30,000 participants spanning 10 years, the Arkansas Community Colleges, a nonprofit membership association representing the state’s publicly funded community colleges, led a rigorous third-party evaluation of the program’s outcomes. The study was named College Count$ and was funded by the Winthrop Rockefeller, Annie E. Casey, and Ford Foundations. The goal of College Count$ was to measure the student success, social impact, and economic benefits to low-income Arkansans resulting from the investment of federal TANF dollars.

The external evaluators report that, despite their significant financial and educational challenges, more than 52 percent of students who enrolled in CPI between 2005 and 2013 graduated with a higher education degree or certificate. That is more than double the completion rate for Arkansas community college students who did not participate in CPI.

To put this in a national context, 62 percent of Arkansas CPI students who enrolled in 2008 completed a degree or certificate by 2013 while across the rest of the nation only 39 percent of students who enrolled that year completed a credential.

Digging further into the data, 45 percent of African American CPI students earned a degree or certificate, three times the rate of their peers at the same colleges who didn’t participate in CPI. Hispanic CPI participants are graduating at four times the rate of their non-participating peers at the same colleges. CPI participants are not only graduating, but they are getting jobs and earning more money than their TANF peers. CPI graduates are earning thousands more than their matched counterparts from the same region and field of employment, reducing the need for continued public assistance.

Not only does CPI financially benefit the participants, it is also paying a big return on investment to the state of Arkansas. For every $1 federal dollar Arkansas invests in CPI, it gets a return of $1.79 to the state from reductions in public assistance and increased tax revenues from earnings gains.

Case Managers Helping Create Value

Clearly, the CPI model has an extraordinary impact on participants, but College Count$ researchers also wanted to determine the secret of the program’s success. In other words, the data prove that CPI is successful, but what specifically about the program is most effective in helping students succeed? This was an important question to address in order to best assist other states in replicating the program.

The researchers found the critical success factor was the holistic case management provided by CPI staff which encourages student persistence, regardless of challenges. Case managers are transformative agents encouraging, mentoring, counseling and assessing needs—the critical support that these at-risk students need to persist in their journey toward a better life. Other important components were financial aid, including gas vouchers, assistance with books, and child-care assistance.

This unique Arkansas program has gained attention over the years and is now a nationally recognized model for combining workforce training with holistic case management student support.

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