Policy and Practice


The learn-and-work ecosystem encompasses a diverse set of stakeholders, including education and other service providers, employers, and learners. Federal, state, local, and institutional policy all affect program design decisions—and ultimately, learner outcomes—across these systems. The following examples illustrate the diversity of research being conducted throughout the ecosystem.

See Research for a list of organizations that conduct research and evaluation studies.


Workforce Education

Implementation, Outcomes, and Impact Synthesis Report Round 4 TAACCCT Third-Party Evaluations—This is the national evaluation of the Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training act (TAACCCT). The TAACCCT grant program was a $1.9 billion initiative, with a total of 256 grants awarded in multiple rounds between 2011 and 2018. Grants went to eligible institutions of higher education (mainly community colleges) to build their capacity to provide workforce education and training programs. The evaluation, funded by the U.S. Department of Labor, was conducted by Abt Associates and the Urban Institute. It consisted of four components: (1) an implementation study that focused on grantees’ experiences in implementing key components of TAACCT (new and enhanced programs of study, support services, curriculum development, participant assessments and career guidance, and partnership development); (2) an outcomes study; (3) a synthesis of grantee third-party evaluation findings; and (4) an employer perspectives study. There also were a number of syntheses and special focus reports. (See list of reports here) . 

Key observations include:

  • Many colleges developed new strategies to accelerate learning: stackable or latticed credentials (84 percent); industry-recognized credentials (65 percent), and new career pathway programs (58 percent). (Round 3) 
  • Synthesis findings suggest that a career pathways model that combines accelerated learning strategies, persistence and completion strategies, and connections to employment strategies results in consistently positive educational impacts and mixed employment impacts. (Impacts Finding, Round 3)
  • Reports commonly highlighted the career navigator/coach role as useful in promoting student persistence and completion. Several grantees found that tutoring services, intrusive advising models, and financial assistance promoted student success. (Round 4) 
  • Simulations of work settings were common technology-enabled learning environments, especially for manufacturing and health care training programs. Some employers donated equipment to ensure that facilities provided state-of-the-art and industry-relevant instruction. (Rounds 1-2) 


Competency-Based Education

The National Research Collaborative on Competency-Based Education and Learning (CBE), hosted by the American Institutes for Research (AIR), produced a series of “explainers” that provide brief summaries of the existing research on CBE. This series is intended to be useful for practitioners, program leaders, and researchers—those already working in CBE and those interested in pursuing work in this area. The series focused on:

  • Foundational knowledge: What we know about the landscape, quality, and benefits of CBE programs.
  • Design and implementation: What we know about CBE program design, workforce alignment, and cost.
  • Public perceptions: How a broad range of stakeholders (including employers, potential students, policymakers, and providers), think about CBE, what policies at the state and federal levels impact the development and implementation of CBE programs, and what the implications are of current policies or policies under consideration.

In addition, the series provides a summary of resources available for advancing research in CBE and supporting quality research-based efforts to implement or improve CBE programs.

Career Navigation

2020 Career Navigation Technology A Technology Market Poised for Innovation and Impact by Jobs for the Future’s JFF Labs Impact Accelerator. The authors reviewed more than 1,000 companies and organizations in the recruiting, employment, and career planning sectors to study the career navigation technology market, identifying innovations, trends, and areas of opportunity. The study revealed that platforms for employers seeking workers are seemingly everywhere, as are tools for corporate workers looking for new professional opportunities. Paradoxically, those who arguably have the greatest need for innovative, high-quality career-navigation tools—that is, workers themselves, especially workers in entry-level, frontline, or middle-skill roles—are least likely to be able to afford those tools. As a result, much of the market for worker-centered career navigation services is limited to low-quality “free” job search tools or systems offering more transactional, easy-to-automate supports, such as resumé writing or portfolio-building assistance. 

The study identifies 18 innovators to watch— a select group of organizations that represent market trends and distinguish themselves from other forward-looking companies by their potential to create significant, business-aligned social impact. It concludes by arguing that career navigation tools need to offer more than just surface information about careers: a basic job description, some labor market data that indicates the industry is “in demand,” and the credential or degree that might be required. Workers need to be able to get a streamlined, personalized picture of advancement opportunities, transferable skills, access to mentors and other networks (their own or new), and myriad other elements that affect their interaction with the labor market. And they need to be positioned to mobilize this multidimensional information to make better career choices.

Performance and Accountability

The Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) of 2014 includes various accountability measures relevant to the learn-and-work ecosystem. WIOA Section 122 requires states to establish and maintain an Eligible Training Provider List (ETPL) — a list of training providers who are eligible to receive Individual Training Accounts (ITAs) through WIOA Title I-B funds. It also requires providers to collect and publish performance and cost information. Local Workforce Boards are responsible for developing and maintaining a local eligible training provider within state guidelines. Under WIOA, training must be directly linked to an in-demand industry sector or occupation in the local area or the planning region, or in another area to which an adult or dislocated worker receiving such services is willing to relocate. This quality assurance provision requires ongoing data collection and analysis to determine initial and continued eligibility of training providers. State examples include: Alabama, California and Illinois.

WIOA also establishes performance measures for six core programs authorized under the Act:  (1) WIOA Adult, (2) Dislocated Worker and (3) Youth programs; (4) the Employment Service; (5) the Adult Education and Family Literacy Act (AEFLA) program;  and (6) Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) program). These performance measures relate to employment and earnings outcomes, effectiveness in serving employers, credential attainment and skills gains for participants in training (excluding on-the-job training or OJT, and customized training). The federal government provides guidance and tools on measuring credential attainment and skills gains. In addition, in Expanding Opportunities: Defining Quality Non-Degree Credentials for States, the National Skills Coalition offers a definition of quality non-degree credentials, as well as criteria that states can adopt for their own quality assurance systems related to non-degree credentials. These criteria, developed in consultation with 12 states, are:

    1. Required: Substantial job opportunities.
    2. Required: Transparent evidence of the competencies mastered by credential holders.
    3. Required: Evidence of the employment and earnings outcomes of individuals after obtaining the credential.
    4. Strongly preferred: Stackability to additional education or training.

To adopt these criteria, states and local areas must analyze labor market data on supply and demand, as well as data on program design and outcomes from disparate sources. 


Student Transfer

Previous research by the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center established that the frequency, timing, and direction of student transfer among institutions vary greatly with factors such as starting institution type/sector and enrollment intensity (Hossler et al., 2012; Shapiro et al., 2015).  Transfer and Mobility: A National View of Student Movement in Postsecondary Institutions disaggregates transfer patterns by race and ethnicity. The 2011 study found that two-year institutions served almost 1.5 million students representing more than half of the entire fall 2011 cohort and all transfers. However, many two-year students who transfer from community colleges do so without a degree. Only 5.6 percent of this cohort transferred after receiving a credential from their starting institution, either a certificate or an associate degree. The vast majority transferred without a degree.

Other findings include:

  • Student mobility often involves out-of-state transfers. Of all students who transferred, regardless of the starting institution, the out-of-state transfer rate for the fall 2011 cohort was 27.2 percent.
  • The transfer rate for students who started at a four-year institution was slightly higher
    (38.5 percent) than for students who started at a two-year institution (37.1 percent). For those who started at a two-year public institution, 5.6 percent of students transferred after earning a degree at their starting institution.
  • The primary transfer destination for two-year starters was a four-year institution (50.5 percent of transfers). The primary destination for four-year starters was a two-year institution (59.2 percent of transfers).
  • Of all four- to two-year transfers, over one in three (36.2 percent) were so-called “summer swirlers”, students who transferred from four-year institutions to community colleges and subsequently returned to their starting institution in the fall term. An earlier Clearinghouse report found this strategy  to be correlated to higher degree completion rates at the starting four-year institution.
  • Among those who transferred from a two-year institution, Asian and White students were more likely to transfer to four-year institutions (49.8 percent and 50.4 percent, respectively) than were Black and Hispanic students (33.2 percent and 39.5 percent, respectively).
  • Among those who transferred from a four-year to a two-year institution, Asian and White students were more likely to have done so during the summer only (45.6 percent and 40.6 percent, respectively) than Black and Hispanic students (26.5 percent and 32.8 percent, respectively).


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