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Findings from RCT Grants

Long-term (9- and 11-year) earnings impacts in the Project QUEST randomized trial – a workforce development program for low-income adults

This well-conducted RCT found that QUEST increased average annual earnings by (i) $5,726, or 20%, in the ninth year after program entry and (ii) $4,616, or 15%, in the 11th year after program entry. These effects were statistically significant at p<0.05 and p<0.10, respectively.

Grantee: Economic Mobility Corporation (Mobility). Mobility’s full study reports are linked here (9-year) and here (11-year).

Description of the Intervention: This is a randomized controlled trial (RCT) of Project QUEST in San Antonio, Texas. QUEST provides comprehensive support and resources to help low-income adults enroll full-time in occupational training programs at local community colleges, complete the training, pass certification exams, and enter well-paying careers in high-growth sectors of the local economy (hence, the program is sometimes described as a “sectoral” training program). In this study, the program focused on jobs in the healthcare sector. Major components of the program are: required full-time enrollment in a college occupational training program that QUEST is partnered with, required weekly group or individual counseling sessions, financial assistance for tuition and other school-related expenses, and remedial instruction for those requiring it. The program cost approximately $12,500 per participant. (All dollar amounts shown in this summary are constant 2019 dollars.)

Study Design: Between 2006 and 2008, the researchers randomly assigned 410 low-income adults who were interested in nursing, medical records coding, or other health-related training to (i) a program group that received QUEST services focused on healthcare occupations, or (ii) a control group that did not receive these services. Sample members were largely female (88%), Latino (74%), and unmarried (72%), and most had only a high school diploma or GED (95%). They averaged 30 years of age, and earned an average of $13,323 in the year prior to program entry. An earlier study follow-up, published in 2017, found that QUEST increased average annual earnings in the sixth year after random assignment by $5,596, compared to the control group, based on sample members’ self-reports.1

With Arnold Ventures funding, the researchers conducted two longer-term follow-ups, measuring annual earnings in the 9th and 11th years after random assignment using Texas unemployment insurance records (earnings in years 9 and 11 were the two studies’ primary pre-specified outcomes for these follow-ups). The purpose was to determine whether the program’s earning effects endure over time and constitute a sustained improvement in participants’ economic well-being.2

Impact on the Primary Outcomes: The study found that QUEST’s earnings effects were sustained over the long-term. Specifically, in the 9th year after random assignment, QUEST increased average annual earnings by $5,726 or 20% (the QUEST group’s earnings were $34,934 compared to $29,208 for the control group in the 9th year). In the 11th year after random assignment, QUEST increased average annual earnings by $4,616 or 15% (the QUEST group’s earnings were $35,500 compared to $30,884 for the control group in the 11th year). These effects were statistically significant at p<0.05 and p<0.10, respectively. In addition, the studies corroborated the sizable effects on self-reported earnings in prior years using Texas unemployment insurance records.3

Study Quality: Based on careful review, we believe this was a well-conducted RCT that produced valid findings.4

  1. 1

    Support for the initial six-year study came principally from the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, with additional support from the Annie E. Casey Foundation and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services through a contract with Abt Associates.

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  2. 2

    As part of the project, the researchers also measured exploratory long-term outcomes, including educational attainment and receipt of unemployment benefits, and conducted a cost-benefit analysis. The results of these analyses are included in the 11-year report (linked at the top of this summary).

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  3. 3

    The sizable earnings impacts measured with survey data in years one through six closely mirror those found in administrative data over the same period. For example, as noted above, QUEST increased average annual earnings in the sixth year after random assignment by $5,596 as measured with survey data. This is comparable to the impact of $5,754 in the sixth year as measured with administrative data.

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  4. 4

    For example, the study had successful random assignment (as evidenced by highly similar treatment and control groups), no sample attrition, and valid analyses that were publicly pre-registered.

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