Still Bridging the Opportunity Divide: Year Up’s Impacts Through Five Years

May 10, 2021
| Nicole Constance and Amelia Popham
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Last week OPRE published a new report with exciting findings about helping young adults become better connected to in-demand jobs that pay well. The Career Pathways Intermediate Outcomes Study, conducted for OPRE by Abt Associates, is examining intermediate impacts on educational progress, employment and earnings, and family well-being in nine programs first evaluated as part of the Pathways for Advancing Careers and Education (PACE) project. Our short-term evaluation of one of those programs, Year Up, found that the program produced large impacts on earnings: young adults who were randomly assigned to the Year Up treatment group earned an average of $1,895 more in the sixth and seventh quarters after enrollment than did those assigned to the control group, an improvement of 53 percent. Our recent report, focused on intermediate outcomes, found that Year Up continues to produce large impacts through the end of the five-year follow-up period.

Year Up is an intensive, one-year program for young adults aged 18 to 24 who have earned their high school diploma. In the first six months of the program, students participate in the “Learning and Development” (L&D) phase to learn technical skills, business communication, and professional skills. Next, students are placed in six-month internships at Year Up’s employer partners. Throughout the one-year program, students receive a stipend, intensive case management, robust support services, and support from their peers.  

The large, positive impact on earnings found in the short-term persisted: in the 12th and 13th quarters after random assignment, members of the treatment group earned $1,857 more than their counterparts in the control group, an improvement of 38 percent. This impact on earnings ranks among the largest reported from randomized controlled trials of training programs for low-income adults. This trend continues through the end of the five-year period for which data are currently available. The gain in earnings comes mostly from treatment group members earning higher wages and to a lesser extent from working more hours; the program had only small impacts on employment overall.  

Though the program has large earnings impacts for every subgroup examined and across all eight of Year Up’s offices, the size of the impact varies for some groups. In particular, impacts were larger for young adults receiving mostly A’s or B’s in high school ($2,178) than for those receiving mostly C’s or below ($1,388), and larger for those who identify as non-Hispanic White ($2,931) than for those who identify as non-Hispanic Black ($1,570) or as Hispanic or Latino ($1,875). While the program is helping a lot of disadvantaged young adults, these findings suggest that Year Up graduates still face racial discrimination and other disparities in the labor market.

Year Up is an expensive program, with direct program costs of $27,158 per participant, and a net cost to society of $23,135 per participant. Nearly 60 percent of that cost is paid by Year Up’s employer partners with whom students are placed during the internship phase of the program. Still, the results of the cost benefit study show that the benefits of the program exceed this cost; the net benefit to society is $38,484, a difference of $15,349 per participants. This net benefit means that for every dollar spent on the program, the program returns $1.66 to the benefit of society as a whole.


What makes Year Up so special? Program stakeholders pointed to four major features: Year Up’s intensive approach to recruitment and screening applicants; their approach to developing skills during the L&D phase; internships that connect participants to potential employers and finance the program; and strong organizational practices, such as applying business tools to monitor performance outcomes and articulating the program’s mission and values and mobilizing key stakeholders to work towards those values. Our evaluation was not designed to assess which of these factors is most important, but it could be that all of them, together, are what makes Year Up successful. There is still a lot more to learn about Year Up. Would the impacts be as strong if Year Up relaxed some of their screening tools in order to recruit more young parents, youth aging out of foster care, or other especially vulnerable youth? Could some elements of Year Up’s program be applied to other job training and career pathways programs? Are there ways to operate the program that are less expensive? Year Up has been piloting the Professional Training Corps, which relies on local community colleges for the L&D phase to cut down on costs. More information about the evaluation of this adaptation is available on the Abt Associates website Visit disclaimer page . To learn more, check out the new Year Up report on the OPRE website. OPRE will also release another report next year on Year Up’s long-term impacts six to seven years after enrollment through the Career Pathways Long-term Outcomes Study.

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