Integration of Education and Job Training Is Called Key to Welfare-to-Work Programs

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By Deborah L. Cohen

Welfare-to-work programs that integrate remedial education with job training are far more likely to succeed than those that require participants to complete education requirements before receiving skills training, a new study has concluded.

The study, underwritten by the Rockefeller Foundation and conducted by Mathematica Policy Research Inc., assessed the success of four demonstration projects serving minority single mothers from low-income families. About half the mothers were high-school dropouts, and 70 percent were receiving public assistance at the time they enrolled in the programs.

In what its sponsors say is the "most rigorous" evaluation of welfare-to-work programs to date, the study gathered data from a sample of 4,000 mothers with common demographic characteristics who were randomly assigned to one of the pro

The four sites--in Washington, Atlanta, Providence, R.I., and San Jose, Calif.--were all run by community-based organizations; served comparable populations; and offered a similar range of education, training, counseling, and day-care services.

San Jose's Center for Employment Training--the only site that steered participants directly to job training and incorporated remedial education into the skills training--was the only project to show "large and rapid earnings gains" among participants after 12 months in the program.

Compared with control-group mothers not in the program, the San Jose mothers experienced a 27 percent increase in employment and a 47 percent increase in earnings.

At the other sites, "there was no significant difference in the labor-market success of mothers in or out of the programs," noted Phoebe Cottingham, the study's project director. In addition, said John Burghardt, a senior researcher for Mathematica and a co-author of the study, after 12 months, 82 percent of the San Jose mothers in the program had received job training, while between a quarter and a third of those at the other sites had received only education services.

Sounding an Alarm?

The study casts doubt on the effectiveness of traditional welfare-to-work programs that test recipients' educational level and channel many into basic-education courses before allowing them to enter job training. That approach is the "most commonly used" among existing programs, the study says.

The findings, the authors say, should sound an alarm to states as they prepare to implement the Job Opportunities and Basic Skills pro gram, a component of the federal welfare-reform law that emphasizes basic education, job training, and support services to help welfare recipients attain self-sufficiency.

The Family Support Act of 1988 requires that states establish jobs programs by Oct. 1.

"Many key decisions about the design and operations of the programs will be made in the coming year--decisions that will make a difference in the ability of the programs to increase the employment and earnings of low-income single mothers," says a report on the study, "More Jobs and Higher Pay: How an Integrated Program Compares With Traditional Programs."

"The findings here suggest that programs integrating basic education and skill training will be far more successful than ones offering these services separately," it concludes.

Rob Hollister, a professor of economics at Swarthmore College who served as a consultant to the Rockefeller Foundation, said the findings show welfare-reform efforts that subject participants to extensive testing and completion of education requirements at the outset may not be "appropriate" for those who have not fared well in the traditional education system.

Russ Tershy, executive director of the San Jose center, said eliminating standardized basic-skills testing and allowing recipients to proceed directly into job training in the skill of their choice helped to motivate participants.

"The first day there, they can put their hands on a machine," he observed. Theory and educational components were woven into the training, which was supervised by a team of instructors, counselors, and "job developers," he said.

Another strong feature of the San Jose model, Mr. Tershy noted, is that it worked closely with industry to assure that the job and basic-skills training matched the needs of local employers and the job market.

While all the project sites helped arrange for child-care subsidies and locate and choose providers, the San Jose project was also the only model to provide on-site child care for program participants.

Currently, state welfare-reform programs such as California's Greater Avenues for Independence, or gain, require that certain basic educational requirements be met before clients can receive job training.

More Study Needed

But Gerald Kilbert, an assistant superintendent in the California Department of Education, noted that the state Department of Social Services, "with our encouragement," has shown an increasing interest in alternative approaches that offer a combined approach.

The Rockefeller report's authors note, however, that the integrated model of job training and remedial education must be tested in statewide programs and "over a larger range of settings to confirm its replicability."

In addition to the 12-month study, Mathematica is conducting analyses to examine the impact of the Rockefeller Foundation project at the 30- and 60-month marks.

Copies of "More Jobs and Higher Pay: How an Integrated Program Compares With Traditional Programs" are available for free from the Rockefeller Foundation, 1133 Avenue of the Americas, New York, N.Y. 10036.

Vol. 10, Issue 4, Page 18-19

Published in Print: September 26, 1990, as Integration of Education and Job Training Is Called Key to Welfare-to-Work Programs
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