Bridging the Opportunity Divide for Low-Income Youth: Implementation and Early Impacts of the Year Up Program

Publication Date: June 25, 2018
Bridging the Opportunity Divide for Low-Income Youth: Implementation and Early Impacts of the Year Up Program Cover

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Research Questions

  1. Was the Year Up program model implemented as designed across the program’s eight offices?
  2. How did employment, training, and related service experiences differ between young adults randomly selected to participate in Year Up (the treatment group) and those who could not access the program (the control group)?
  3. What were the effects of access to Year Up on earnings, career-track employment, postsecondary education, and related outcomes? How did these effects vary across subgroups and across the eight local offices?

This report assesses the implementation and early impacts of Year Up, a national sectoral training program for young adults aged 18-24. Year Up aims to help low-income, low-skilled adults access and complete training leading to employment in high-demand, well-paying occupations. It is among nine programs Abt Associates is evaluating in Pathways for Advancing Careers and Education (PACE)—a study sponsored by the Administration for Children and Families.

Operated by an organization of the same name, Year Up provides young adults with six months of full-time training in the IT and financial service sectors followed by six-month internships at major firms. The full-time program provides extensive supports—including weekly stipends—and puts a heavy emphasis on the development of professional and technical skills.

Using a rigorous research design, the study found that young adults with access to Year Up had higher average quarterly earnings in the sixth and seventh quarters after random assignment—the confirmatory outcome selected to gauge Year Up’s overall success for this report. Compared to control group members who were not able to access the program, treatment group members also were more likely to report that their classes used active learning methods, taught life skills, and were relevant to their lives and careers. Persisting over a three-year follow-up period, Year Up’s earnings impacts are the largest reported to date for workforce programs tested using a random assignment design.


As opportunities for college graduates have grown in recent decades, prospects for young adults without postsecondary credentials have steadily worsened. With few chances at well-paying jobs, millions give up on school and withdraw from the labor force, often leading to long-term disconnection and life-long disadvantages. The societal costs of disconnection are high, including higher rates of crime, substance abuse, and intergenerational poverty; diminished tax revenues; and the loss to employers of millions of workers who otherwise could help to close skills gaps in growing industries.

The PACE evaluation of Year Up provides an opportunity to build on promising evidence for other well-implemented career pathways approaches with a strong sectoral focus. It assesses the possibility that more intensive and comprehensive interventions—addressing both general and occupation-specific skills, using work-based learning, and fully engaging employers—will prove more effective than lower-intensity programs studied in the past.

To assess the effectiveness of a career pathways program such as Year Up, the PACE evaluation uses an experimental design. For this experiment, PACE randomly assigned study participants to a “treatment” group who were encouraged to enroll in the program and a “control” group who were not allowed to enroll. The study then compared outcomes for the two groups over time.

Key Findings and Highlights

  • Year Up implemented its program with high fidelity to its design. Site visits to four of Year Up’s eight local offices found all major program components implemented and functioning well. Quantitative indicators attest to strong implementation on outcomes such as recruitment, retention, internship slots, and post-program employment. Although generally high, outcomes varied somewhat across offices.
  • Year Up had positive effects on the scope and nature of services received by its students. More than half (57 percent) of control group members pursued training, mostly at community colleges. However, nearly all treatment group members (96 percent) participated in Year Up, and they were far more likely to cite promising instructional approaches; take courses in life skills; accrue related work experience; and receive an array of support services.
  • Effects on earnings were consistently large and positive. This finding applies to the overall sample, to all participant subgroups analyzed, and to all eight Year Up local offices. Year Up increased average quarterly earnings by $1,895 (53 percent) in the sixth and seventh quarters after random assignment—the pre-specified confirmatory outcome for this analysis. Large positive effects persisted through the third follow-up year. Impacts also were positive for an array of other indicators of early career progress, although effects on college persistence were mixed.


The Year Up 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.

For the impact study, Year Up offices in all eight metropolitan areas recruited, screened, and randomly assigned a total of 2,544 young adults to treatment (1,669) and control (875) groups in 2013-2014. The evaluation team measured outcomes using data from employer-reported wage data maintained in the federal National Directory of New Hires, college enrollment records from the National Student Clearinghouse, and the 18‑month follow-up survey. The evaluation also included site visits to document program implementation and operations. Prior to estimating Year Up’s impacts, the research team published an analysis plan specifying key hypotheses and outcome measures.


Fein, D. and Hamadyk, J. (2018). Bridging the Opportunity Divide for Low-Income Youth: Implementation and Early Impacts of the Year Up Program, OPRE Report #2018-65, 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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