HPOG’s Year Three Annual Report Highlights Success Preparing Low-Income Individuals for Health Professions

By Manuela Ekowo

The career pathway approach, heavily endorsed in the Workforce Innovation Opportunity Act (WIOA) passed by Congress and signed by President Obama last month, is a promising way to help low-income, lower-skilled workers access employment and training opportunities. The Health Profession Opportunity Grants’ (HPOG) health care career pathway programs strongly demonstrate how career pathways help low-income individuals gain postsecondary credentials necessary for health-related employment.

HPOG was established in 2010 by the Affordable Health Care Act (ACA) to fund training in high-demand health care professions and target Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) recipients and other low-income individuals. HPOG’s recently released Year Three Annual Report highlights the success to date of HPOG career pathway programs in educating and training low-income, lower-skilled adults for health professions. This descriptive report of HPOG participants lays the groundwork for future reports that will analyze the impact of the programs.

So far, the programs have enrolled over 24,000 participants among the 32 HPOG grantees across 23 states. Almost half of participants entering the programs reported a household income of $9,999 or less, and 60 percent had no prior college experience. More than half were receiving food assistance under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) at entry.

The report notes success in enrolling participants in health care training courses that would lead to eventual employment in health care. Authors reported that 90 percent of participants engaged in pre-training activities, including orientations to health care careers and basic skills education and prerequisite courses, and 81 percent of enrollees participated in a health care training course. At the end of Year Three, 60 percent of participants had completed the course.  Additionally, over half of participants engaged in employment development activities, such as job readiness workshops and work experience.

Support services are a critical element of career pathways; they help ensure success by removing barriers that may make an individual unable to complete the course or pathway program. HPOG programs provide unusually rich support services, including: case management; counseling; financial assistance with tuition, books, and fees; assistance with transportation or child care; housing support; social and family support; and cultural programming. Almost all HPOG participants received one or more of these support services.

The success of HPOG programs (and career pathways more broadly) is ultimately determined by their ability to train individuals to enter and advance in high-demand professions and help fill in-demand jobs with qualified workers. According to the report, at program exit, two-thirds of those who completed a health care training course were employed and 56 percent (more than half) were employed in health care. The positions most commonly obtained were nursing assistant, aide, orderly, attendant, home health aide, licensed practical nurse (LPN), and licensed vocational nurse (LVN). At the end of Year Three, more than half (57 percent) of participants remained in the HPOG program, preparing for or participating in training or accessing post-training services. These included the majority of those who enrolled in longer-term training programs, such as those leading to registered nurse (RN) degrees.

CLASP has played a leadership role on career pathways as an effective way to equip low-income, lower-skilled individuals with the education and skills necessary to obtain postsecondary credentials and stable employment. Since 2012, we have facilitated the Alliance for Quality Career Pathways, which recently released Shared Vision, Strong Systems: The Alliance for Quality Career Pathways Framework Version 1.0. Funded by the Joyce Foundation, James Irvine Foundation, and Greater Twin Cities United Way, the Alliance is an initiative working with leading career pathway states to develop a framework of criteria and indicators that define quality career pathway systems, as well as a set of shared performance metrics for measuring and managing their success. The Alliance framework outlines three features and four functions of quality career pathways, such as well-connected and transparent education, training, credentials, and support services. HPOG has embraced and attributed the success of its programs to many of these features and functions. CLASP continues to inform the national conversation on career pathways and provide leadership in building a shared vision and knowledge base for career pathways through the Alliance’s work.

ACF’s Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation (OPRE) is currently researching and evaluating the success of HPOG; its findings will be published in the near future. However, states are already seeing education and training successes for career pathway participants, especially for individuals who would not be able to access education and family-supporting wages without them. HPOG’s Year Three Annual Report adds to the growing body of evidence that career pathways effectively train workers to be successful in today’s economy.