University of Arkansas Office for Education Policy

Breaking the Poverty Cycle- tips from CPI

In The View from the OEP on March 6, 2018 at 1:59 pm


Here at OEP, we are always excited to see news that Arkansas is making a difference for students, and a new report highlights a program where low-income parents are earning college degrees and certificates at twice the rate of their community college peers.  This is great news!

What is the program?
The Career Pathways Initiative (CPI), has been in place for over a decade and has provided education and training to more than 30,000 low-income and mostly single-parent Arkansans.  The ‘secret’ to the program seems simple: start with an assessment of a student’s skills, weaknesses and career goals, identify barriers that these non-traditional students face, and provide resources and support to help them be successful.
The main resource for students is a case manager. Case managers, who serve between 40 and 80 students each, begin with an assessment of each student’s skills, weaknesses and career goals, then provide a variety of supports based on the student’s needs.
According to the report, CPI case management services include:
•Hands-on Advising and Career Planning. This includes academic and skill assessment, aptitude and interest inventory, career plan development, and accountability measures to monitor class attendance and student progress.
•Family support, including financial support for childcare and transportation expenses.
•Coursework support, including funds available for textbooks, calculators, and some technology support.
•Employment support services, from resume writing, to interview preparation and job application completion.
How do we know it works?
An external evaluation compared nine years of CPI participants to matched comparison pools of similar low-income parents who did not participate in CPI, and to the general community college population who did not receive the CPI treatment. These comparison groups were matched for age, gender, income prior to entering the program, and locale.  The researchers compared certificate and degree outcomes, as well as income levels one year after leaving the program.  Results are below:
  • CPI participants graduate with a degree or certificate at higher rates. More than 52% of all 27,517 low-income participants enrolled in the CPI between 2006 and 2013 graduated with a degree or certificate compared to a 24% completion rate of Arkansas community college students who did not participate in CPI.
  • CPI students of color complete a degree or certificate at higher rates. Forty five percent of all African American CPI participants have completed at least one higher education degree or certificate, compared to only 17% of African American non-CPI community college students students in Arkansas. Fifty-six percent of Hispanic CPI students exited with at least one degree or certificate compared to only 14% of Hispanic community college students who did not participate.
  • CPI participants complete a degree or certificate more quickly. Sixty two percent of CPI students who enrolled in 2008 had completed a degree or certificate within five years, and nationally only 39% of students who enrolled at a public two-year college completed a degree or certificate in this same time period.
  • CPI students earn more money. CPI graduates who enrolled in 2011 earned $3,100 more in their first year than their counterparts from the same region and field of employment, despite having earned similar incomes prior to entry into the program.
Where does the funding come from?
CPI was established in 2005 utilizing existing dollars from Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) funds. A part of the evaluation focused on the Return on Investment and found 179 percent return on the state’s initial investment in the program when combined with increased tax revenues.

We are excited to spread the word about the Arkansas Career Pathways Initiative and how it is effectively supporting low-income parents as they get the education and experience needed to achieve economic self-sufficiency.  We hope that your school is doing the same for your students! Here at OEP, we feel there are several aspects of CPI that all schools could learn from and use to help students be successful.
1) Start with determining where students are, where they want to go, and what might get in their way. In the CPI program, assessment information is collected and student goals are identified as the starting point. Possible barriers are identified and supports are put into place to help- be it finding childcare or providing vouchers for gas.  This student-centered planning is a great practice for those working with students at every level. Are students in your school having their goals heard and receiving help to overcome the obstacles to success?

2) Monitor student progress. In the CPI program, student progress towards educational and career goals is closely monitored, and supports are put in place as needed. Case managers understand the participants holistically, and draw no boundaries around the kind of supports needed to help a student persist in his or her journey toward a better life.  How is your school monitoring student progress and what steps are you taking to intervene to help students meet their goals?


3) Gather lots of data.  The Arkansas legislature required CPI to keep a database regarding degrees earned, job placement and retention and wages for their students.  According to the report, these data are unique in the country and have allowed a more rigorous evaluation of educational and economic outcomes of the program that are typical in the field. Arkansas educators and policymakers benefit from a robust K-12 longitudinal data system, but we often don’t consider how our students do once they leave our school, and but we don’t yet have helpful connections to college or workforce outcomes for our students.  As a state, we need to ensure these data are available so we can determine how well we are preparing students for college and careers. How is your school gathering information about student outcomes once they leave your building?

4) Make meaningful comparisons.  The matched comparison model used by the researchers compares CPI participants with similar low-income parents who are not participating in CPI and with Arkansas community college students as a whole. These comparisons allow policymakers to make informed decisions about the value of such investments in the future. How has your school identified a meaningful comparison group?
5) Think creatively about your funding.  CPI re-purposed existing funds in an innovative way, which led to better outcomes for students. Does your school examine how effectively funds are being used or just continue to fund the same projects while adding new ones?
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