Educational Outcomes of I-BEST, Washington State Community and Technical College System's Integrated Basic Education and Skills Training Program: Findings from a Multivariate Analysis
Nationally, relatively few of the more than 2.5 million adults who enroll annually in basic skills programs advance successfully to college-level coursework. This limits the ability of such individuals to secure jobs that pay family-supporting wages and that offer opportunities for career advancement. This paper presents findings from a study conducted by the Community College Research Center (CCRC) at Teachers College, Columbia University, on the outcomes of the Integrated Basic Education and Skills Training program, or I-BEST, an innovative program developed by the community and technical colleges in Washington State to increase the rate at which adult basic skills students enter and succeed in postsecondary occupational education and training. Under the I-BEST model, basic skills instructors and college-level career-technical faculty jointly design and teach college-level occupational courses for adult basic skills students. Instruction in basic skills is thereby integrated with instruction in college-level career-technical skills. The I-BEST model challenges the conventional notion that basic skills instruction ought to be completed by students prior to starting college-level courses. The approach thus offers the potential to accelerate the transition of adult basic skills students to college programs. The CCRC study reported on here used multivariate analysis to compare the educational outcomes over a two-year tracking period of I-BEST students with those of other basic skills students, including students who comprise a particularly apt comparison group—those non-I-BEST basic skills students who nonetheless enrolled in at least one workforce course in academic year 2006““07, the period of enrollment in the study. The researchers examined data on more than 31,000 basic skills students in Washington State, including nearly 900 I-BEST participants. The analyses controlled for observed differences in background characteristics of students in the sample. The study found that students participating in I-BEST achieved better educational outcomes than did other basic skills students, including those who enrolled in at least one non-I-BEST workforce course. I-BEST students were more likely than others to: Continue into credit-bearing coursework; Earn credits that count toward a college credential; Earn occupational certificates; and Make point gains on basic skills tests. On all the outcomes examined, I-BEST students did moderately or substantially better than non-I-BEST basic skills students in general. The I-BEST group's comparative advantage relative to non-I-BEST basic skills students who enrolled in at least one workforce course was not as large, but it was still significant. The study also compared I-BEST students to a group of non-participants with similar characteristics who were matched with the I-BEST students using a statistical technique called propensity score matching (PSM). Using the PSM analysis, the study estimated that over the two-year tracking period, the probability that I-BEST students would earn at least one college credit was 90 percent, while the probability for the matched students was 67 percent, a 23 percentage point difference. I-BEST students earned, on average, an estimated 52 quarter-term college credits, compared to an average of 34 quarter-term credits for the matched comparison group. I-BEST students had a higher probability of persisting into the second year: 78 percent, compared to 61 percent for the matched group. The chances of earning an occupational certificate was 55 percent for I-BEST students, compared with only 15 percent for the matched group. I-BEST students also had a higher likelihood of making point gains on the CASAS basic skills test: 62 percent compared with 45 percent for the matched group. While the results of this analysis show that participation in I-BEST is correlated with better educational outcomes over the two-year tracking period, it is important to note that they do not provide definitive evidence that the I-BEST program caused the superior outcomes. It could be that because of the way students are selected into the program, those who participate have higher motivation or other characteristics not measured in this study that make them more likely to succeed. Selection bias could also operate in the other direction if I-BEST students are more disadvantaged in ways we do not measure. In the future, CCRC researchers plan to conduct fieldwork to better understand the process by which students are selected into the program. CCRC will also extend this study by examining degree attainment and labor force outcomes of I-BEST students over a longer timeframe, by collecting financial data to estimate program cost-effectiveness, and by examining the practices of I-BEST programs that produce superior outcomes.
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