Des Moines Area Community College Workforce Training Academy Connect Program: Implementation and Early Impact Report

Publication Date: October 30, 2018
Des Moines Area Community College Workforce Training Academy Connect Program: Implementation and Early Impact Report Cover

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  • Published: 2018


Research Questions

  1. Was the intervention implemented as designed?
  2. How did services received differ between study participants who could access the WTA Connect program versus those who could not?
  3. What were the effects of access to WTA Connect on short-term educational outcomes: credentials attained and hours of occupational training received?

This report documents the implementation and early impacts of the Workforce Training Academy Connect (WTA Connect) program, operated by Des Moines Area Community College (DMACC) in Des Moines, Iowa. WTA Connect aimed to help low-income, low-skilled adults access and complete occupational training that can lead to increased employment and higher earnings. It is one of nine career pathways programs being evaluated under the Pathways for Advancing Careers and Education (PACE) study sponsored by the Administration for Children and Families.

WTA Connect aimed to provide a pathway for low-skilled students to enroll in occupational certificate courses when their low levels of basic skills made them otherwise ineligible. It provided basic skills remediation (including enrollment in high school equivalency classes if needed), development of self-efficacy and goal-setting skills, and proactive advising. After completing the basic skills requirements, WTA Connect participants could enroll in occupational certificate courses in fields such as healthcare, advanced manufacturing, and administrative support. The entire package of program components was provided free to participants.

Using a rigorous research design, the study found that WTA Connect resulted in a modest increase in attainment of credentials by participants within the 18-month follow-up period, but no other educational or career impacts. Future reports will examine whether this credential effect translates into gains in employment and earnings.


Low-income workers with only a high school education face poor and declining employment prospects. Postsecondary training, often at community colleges, offers one strategy for improving this population’s education and employment opportunities, especially if targeted to occupations where there is high and growing demand for skilled workers. Many such adults are “nontraditional” students—that is, often they are older, are parents, lack college-level academic skills, and have few economic resources.

Career pathways programs are designed to address these barriers to earning postsecondary credentials with labor market value by providing well-defined training steps targeted to locally in-demand jobs, combined with a range of financial, academic, employment, and personal supports and services. To assess the effectiveness of a career pathways program such as WTA Connect, the PACE evaluation used an experimental design in which program applicants were assigned at random to a “treatment” group who could access the program or a “control” group who could not, then compared their outcomes.

Key Findings and Highlights

  • Fifty percent of the WTA Connect treatment group participated in education or training. Program staff attributed non-participation to a number of barriers (e.g., participants finding work) and treatment group members that did not engage cited reasons such as work and family responsibilities.
  • Of those treatment group members who participated in and started basic skills remediation, almost three-quarters completed it and enrolled in occupational training.
  • The treatment group was significantly more likely than the control group to receive a variety of supports including career counseling, tutoring, help arranging supports for school or work, and job search assistance.
  • The treatment group earned significantly more credentials (the confirmatory outcome measured in this report) than control group members, although only 19 percent of treatment group members received credentials. There were no impacts on hours of occupational training, career outcomes, or career pathways employment.


The WTA Connect evaluation includes an implementation study that examines the design and operation of the program and enrolled students’ participation patterns, and an impact study that uses an experimental design to measure differences in educational and employment outcomes.

Between April 2012 and December 2014, the evaluation randomly assigned nearly 1,000 program applicants to either the treatment or the control group. Data were collected from a follow-up survey conducted approximately 18 months after random assignment and from administrative records from DMACC. The evaluation also included site visits to document program implementation and operations. Prior to estimating WTA Connect’s impacts, the research team published an analysis plan specifying key hypotheses and outcome measures.

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