Recent Study Highlights Success of the Arkansas Career Pathways Initiative

A new study from CollegeCounts reveals the powerful impact of public investment in the Arkansas Career Pathways Initiative (CPI), which provides education and training for low-income parents. CPI’s results show what can be achieved through sustained career pathway system building.  This is especially significant as states develop and implement new career pathway programs as required by the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), which also prioritizes disadvantaged groups.

CLASP wrote about CPI five years ago as an example of TANF education and training innovation. CPI uses TANF funds to provide modest supports to low-income parents (up to 250 percent of the federal poverty level) enrolled in a targeted career pathway at a community college. CPI participants receive counseling and tutoring as well as financial assistance to pay for costs such as child care, gas, or textbooks. When it was first piloted in 2005, no one expected CPI participants to outperform the “traditional community college student”; however, that’s exactly what has happened. 

Over the past decade, CPI has grown from offering great programs to encompassing a great system; cross-agency policies focused on meeting quality standards have moved CPI from an innovative pilot to consistent excellence. According to CollegeCounts, CPI participants were twice as likely to complete their programs as non-CPI community college students.  Nationally, CPI participants outperform the achievements of all community college participants as well.  National Student Clearinghouse research data on academic awards shows a 39 percent completion rate for all community college participants from 2008 to 2014. This is compared to 62 percent for CPI participants from 2008 to 2013.

Further, when CPI participants are compared to a “matched population of their community college peers,” others who have significant education and economic disadvantages, CPI students are six times more likely to have completed an Associate’s degree. These results have been improving over time, telling an even more powerful story of progress.  In the early days of CPI, participants achieved degrees at twice the rate of their matched peers; by 2011, they were earning AA degrees at eight times the rate of their community college peer group. Sustained efforts are multiplying impacts.

These educational gains are only half the story; economic gains also demonstrate CPI’s initial and growing success in creating pathways for equity. In 2006, at CPI’s outset, the total annual earnings gap between CPI participants and other Arkansas community college students was $6,432. This wage gap narrowed to $4,514 in 2009 and $1,584 in 2011. In specific job sectors, the gap narrowed even further. In Education and Health Services occupations, the gap decreased from $5,999 in 2006 to $597 in 2011. In the Leisure and Hospitality sector, the gap is down to just $61 a year.

As Arkansas Department of Higher Education Director Brett Powell recently stated, higher education is “No Longer an Exclusive Club.”  Just as the GI Bill and Pell Grants opened the doors of educational and economic opportunity to millions of Americans, career pathway efforts across states are opening those doors even wider.  Career pathway partners are working together to address the education and employment gaps that leave far too many Americans behind. CLASP commends Arkansas for its leadership in this work.

Arkansas has been leading the way in career pathway development for over a decade and was one of 10 states in CLASP’s Alliance for Quality Career Pathways. Through the Alliance, state and local career pathway champions established six quality criteria for career pathway SYSTEM building. Arkansas’ results proves the power of this sustained effort.

View the chart below to see Arkansas' successes in career pathways system building.