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Better Data Needed To Evaluate Job-Training Efforts, Panel Says

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Washington--A massive study of a targeted federal program in the late 1970's to provide job training and employment for young people has found little evidence that the effort had positive long-term effects, particularly for dropouts and the most disadvantaged populations.

But the study, completed by the National Academy of Sciences at the request of the Labor Department, emphasizes that serious weaknesses in research methodology and record-keeping in such programs, rather than faults in the programs themselves, may account for the findings.

And it argues that improved research data will be needed if the government's current job-training efforts are to be fully evaluated.

While underscoring the weakness of the available data, the report nonetheless notes that the failure of employment and training programs to forge links with either the nation's educational system or its economic institutions constitutes "a major impediment" to solving the problems of economically disadvantaged youths.

The study, conducted by the Committee on Youth Employment Programs, an 18-member panel of the academy, recommends that current federal job-training programs give priority to youths who have dropped out of school. And it proposes a further study of the "appropriate role of the youth employment and training system and its relation to the educational system."

The Job Corps was singled out in the study as one program for which there is "strong evidence" of effectiveness.

Programs' History

The academy's 495-page report, "Youth Employment and Training Programs: The yedpa Years," reviews 400 previous reports on the programs created by the Congress in 1977 under the Youth Employment and Demonstration Projects Act.

The programs, which received about $2 billion annually for three years and served a total of about 6 million young people, were eliminated by the 1981 Job Training Partnership Act.

Four new programs were created by yedpa and two existing programs authorized by the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act--the Job Corps and the Summer Youth Employment Program--were expanded.

Poor Coordination

The study found "little evidence of successful mutual efforts" between yedpa program administrators and local school systems, despite a requirement of the Youth Employment and Training Program--the largest of the programs--that some 22 percent of its funds be set aside for efforts coordinated with local schools.

"The youth employment and training system has long suffered from its isolation from major economic and educational institutions," the study notes.

Job training is often perceived as marginal to the educational system, the study found, even though the programs are "trying in large part to do what the education system should be doing but, for some significant segment of the youth population, apparently fails to do."

One example of the problem, the study said, was the programs' failure to help school dropouts.

The yedpa approach to the dropout problem was twofold, the study noted: preventing students from dropping out by targeting services to at-risk young people and offering them incentives to stay in school; and encouraging dropouts participating in the programs to return to school or alternative education programs.

A review found no evidence of effective programs on either front, but did reveal that programs tended to focus on in-school youths, who were easier to recruit and serve than dropouts, the study said.

The problem of school dropouts and the relations between the schools and employment and training systems remain "fundamental dilemmas confronting the youth employment and training system in the United States, " the study said.

Little Reliable Data

A problem in analyzing the job-training programs is that little reliable evidence exists on their long-term employment benefits, the study said.

Because the office charged with managing the programs was inadequately staffed and funded, the study said, it delegated responsibility for the design and evaluation of much of its research to outside parties. The lack of centralized control, the authors of the study said, resulted in little hard evidence on program effectiveness.

Robinson G. Hollister Jr., chairman of the youth employment committee and professor of economics at Swarthmore College, pointed out that in 1979 as many as 40 percent of all jobs held by young black people were in government employment and training programs.

"The big question that follows from that," added Mr. Hollister, "is, after they leave, is there a long-term effect? That's where we are at a loss, because the information falls apart. We're going to face the same thing with jtpa unless we have someone coherently looking at the issue."

To try to prevent a similar problem in the future, the study recommends a centrally coordinated body to evaluate programs under jtpa

Job Corps Successful

The Job Corps, a comprehensive program for "hard core" unemployed youth carried out in residential settings, "stands out in our review as a program for which there is strong evidence regarding program effectiveness," the study said.

The Reagan Administration has proposed eliminating the program in the fiscal 1986 budget.

The study found that for up to four years after participation, the average Job Corps graduate earned 28 percent more per year and worked three weeks more than counterparts who did not participate.

Job Corps participants were also less likely to become involved in crime and were more likely to earn a high-school diploma or a General Equivalency Diploma (ged).

Copies of the report are available for $24.95 from the National Academy Press, 2101 Constitution Ave., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20418.

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