Washington State’s Integrated Basic Education and Skills Training (I-BEST) Program in Three Colleges: Implementation and Early Impact Report

Publication Date: October 17, 2018
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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 I-BEST programs in the three colleges versus those who could not?
  3. What were the effects of access to I-BEST on short-term education outcomes including earning credits and credentials?

This report describes the implementation and early impacts of the Washington State Integrated Basic Education and Skills Training (I-BEST) program at three colleges: Bellingham Technical College, Everett Community College, and Whatcom Community College. I-BEST is a nationally known program that aims to increase access to and completion of college-level occupational training in a variety of in-demand occupational areas. Its signature feature is team teaching by a basic skills instructor and an occupational instructor during at least 50 percent of occupational training class time. Colleges operated I-BEST programs in one or more occupational areas including automotive, electrical, office skills, nursing, precision machining, and welding. I-BEST 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.

The I-BEST program aims to help students in basic skills programs (e.g., Adult Basic Education, English as a Second Language), who otherwise might have spent time in remediation, to enroll and succeed in college-level occupational training courses. Each I-BEST program is a course of study within a structured career pathway, and it offers students the opportunity to obtain credentials and college credits in in-demand occupations. Besides the team teaching, the I-BEST program evaluated in PACE also included financial support for tuition and associated materials; and additional advising services focused on supporting students’ academic needs, navigating college procedures, and career planning.

Using a rigorous research design, the study found that the I-BEST programs at the three colleges increased participation in college level courses, number of credits earned and credential attainment. Future reports will examine whether the I‑BEST program resulted in gains in employment and earnings.


Low-income workers with only a high school education or less 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 it is targeted to occupations where there is high and growing demand for skilled workers. How to facilitate a better match between the nation’s need for a skilled workforce and the needs of low-skilled adults for employment is a topic of great interest to policymakers, workforce development organizations, educators, and other key stakeholders.

Career pathways programs are designed to address these issues by providing well-articulated training and employment steps targeted to locally in-demand jobs, combined with a range of supports. Policymakers and practitioners have shown great interest in the career pathways approach. But, to date, limited rigorous research is available on its effects on participants’ educational and economic outcomes. To assess the effectiveness of a career pathways program such as I-BEST, the PACE evaluation uses an experimental design—that is, randomly assigning study participants to a “treatment” group who can access the program and a “control” group who cannot, then comparing their outcomes.

Key Findings and Highlights

  • The three colleges implemented I-BEST as designed. The colleges varied in how they delivered I-BEST across the different occupational programs. The combination of the instructional approach (team teaching), advising, and financial supports resulted in a clear contrast between the services available to treatment group members and those available to control group members.
  • The program provided access to college-level courses for individuals with low basic skills and education levels. Almost one-third of treatment group members reported having less than a high school diploma or equivalent. Overall, 73 percent of treatment group members offered the I-BEST program participated in it.
  • The program had positive impacts on college course enrollment, driven primarily by enrollment in occupational training courses. I-BEST increased college enrollment by 22 percentage points, and increased enrollment in occupational training courses by 41 percentage points.
  • I-BEST increased credits earned and credential attainment. Treatment group members received an average of 13 more credits compared to control group members, and there was a 32-percentage point increase in credential receipt.


The PACE evaluation’s implementation study examined the design and operation of I-BEST programs at three colleges and students’ participation patterns; its impact study used an experimental design to measure effects on educational and employment outcomes. The PACE evaluation pools results across the three colleges and all occupational training areas.

From November 2011 to September 2014, the PACE evaluation randomly assigned 632 program applicants either to the treatment group (315 students), which could access the I-BEST program, or to the control group (317 students), which could not. Data were collected from college records for a 24-month follow-up period and a follow-up survey conducted approximately 18 months after random assignment. The evaluation also included site visits and monitoring calls to document program implementation and operations. Prior to estimating I‑BEST impacts, the research team published an analysis plan specifying key hypotheses and outcome measures, and registered those outcomes.


Glosser, A., Martinson, K., Cho, S.W., and K. Gardiner. (2018). Washington State’s Integrated Basic Education and Skills Training (I-BEST) Program in Three Colleges: Implementation and Early Impact Report, OPRE Report No. 2018-87, Washington, DC: Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation, Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

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