Moving People from Welfare to Work. Lessons from the National Evaluation of Welfare-to-Work Strategies.. Education and Training Reconsidered: Can they be made more effective?

07/01/2002

  • The NEWWS findings should not be taken as a general indictment of the benefits of education and training in welfare-to-work programs.

NEWWS addressed whether programs in which welfare recipients were initially assigned to and required to participate in education and training activities produced higher average earnings than programs in which welfare recipients were initially assigned to and required to participate in job search. Although the findings indicate that the answer to this question is no, this does not mean that education and training do not pay any dividends to those who actually participate in these activities, receive a high "dosage" of instruction, complete the class sequence or program, and receive a degree or certificate or attain a certain skill level. In fact, nonexperimental work conducted as part of NEWWS suggests that people who increased their skills or obtained a GED subsequently experienced earnings gains relative to people whose skills did not improve or who did not get a credential. The biggest earnings payoff was for those few people who obtained a GED and then received some type of vocational training. Taken together, these results indicate that education and training can benefit welfare recipients. In the NEWWS sample, however, too few recipients achieved the intermediate milestones -- that is, gains in literacy skills or GED attainment -- to reap the potential rewards of education and training.

  • The findings suggest ways in which the benefits of education and training in welfare-to-work programs can be heightened.

It should be kept in mind that the employment-focused programs all offered short-term education or training to people who did not find employment through job search. Furthermore, the most successful program provided a mix of job search and short-term education or training as initial activities. Thus, education and training had a role in all the programs in NEWWS.

One way to heighten the benefits of education and training would be to retain more students long enough to help them improve their literacy skills and earn a GED and access postsecondary services that would allow them to capitalize on the GED credential. Such an effort could be made while people are receiving welfare benefits or after they have left the welfare rolls. There is no guarantee, however, that increasing the duration of participation would be sufficient to help more students achieve the education milestones. Other possibly important factors include the quality of instruction, the appropriateness of the materials and technology for people with low literacy skills and possibly with learning disabilities, and the sometimes limited motivation or constricting life circumstances of program participants. In addition, consideration must be given to the current welfare environment; a long-term commitment to attending education activities, for example, might cause recipients to exhaust their welfare eligibility. Another way to enhance education and training benefits would be to encourage only those recipients who are within easy reach of earning a GED to pursue one. As already discussed, the Portland program adopted this strategy. Still another way to boost education and training impacts would be to foster links between adult education programs and postsecondary programs in an effort to encourage those who earn a GED to go further. Again, the Portland program provides an example of this approach.