Valley Initiative for Development and Advancement (VIDA): Three-Year Impact Report

Publication Date: July 15, 2021
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  • Published: 2021


Research Questions

  1. Three years after random assignment, what were the impacts of VIDA on education outcomes?
  2. Three years after random assignment, what were the impacts of VIDA on entry into career-track employment and higher earnings?
  3. Three years after random assignment, what were the impacts of VIDA on individual and family well-being, including income and other life outcomes?

This report documents the impacts for the Valley Initiative for Development and Advancement program (VIDA) three years after random assignment. Established in 1995, VIDA is a nonprofit, community-based organization created through a partnership of faith-based leaders and the business community of the Lower Rio Grande Valley, Texas. At the onset of the PACE project, VIDA had operated its program model for more than 15 years.

The program supports training for unemployed and other adults with low incomes to obtain certificates and degrees that are expected to lead to jobs that pay well and are in demand locally. The program carefully screens applicants for their capability to attend training full-time and their need for VIDA services and supports.

The major VIDA program components are:

  • Required full-time enrollment in certificate programs, associate degree programs, or the final two years of bachelor’s degree programs to enable faster progress and reduce the time for other life events to interfere with completion.
  • Weekly mandatory group and individual counseling sessions to identify and address barriers early and to provide workshops on topics to help participants succeed in school (e.g., study skills) and in the labor market (e.g., resume writing).
  • Financial support—after accounting for eligibility for other financial support such as Pell grants—for tuition, books, and other needs to reduce financial barriers to completion.
  • A 16-week, accelerated, full-time basic skills (“bridge”) program, the “College Prep Academy,” for those who are not college ready designed to prepare them to pass college entrance exams.
  • Regular assessment of local labor markets including consulting with local economic development corporations to learn about current and anticipated local labor needs to identify occupations where support for training from VIDA will prepare participants for employment opportunities.

The combination of generous financial and personal supports, and substantial participant requirements result in a “high support, high expectations” program.

VIDA is part of the Pathways for Advancing Careers and Education (PACE) project. Funded by the Administration for Children and Families within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, PACE is a multi-site experimental evaluation of nine programs that incorporate some features of a career pathways framework. This evaluation, the Career Pathways Intermediate Outcomes Study, extends the follow-up period to three years for programs in the PACE project. Future reports produced by the Career Pathways Long-term Outcomes Study will extend the follow-up period further.


This research was undertaken to evaluate whether VIDA was successful in providing training to adults with low income and educational attainment and whether the program’s efforts led to impacts on credentials, earnings, and other life outcomes. VIDA provides substantial financial and personal supports to students with low incomes so they can complete college-level occupational programs that prepare them for well-paying jobs in demand in the region.

Key Findings and Highlights

  • VIDA increased receipt of a college credential requiring a year or more of training, the confirmatory outcome in the education domain for this report.

Three years after random assignment, VIDA’s impact on receipt of college credentials requiring a year or more of training was 9 percentage points: 61 percent of the treatment group received such a credential, compared to 52 percent of the control group.

  • VIDA also had positive impacts on many other education outcomes.

Compared to members of the control group, VIDA increased for treatment group members full-time-equivalent college enrollment (2 months), college credits (6 credits), and receipt of an associate degree or higher (7 percentage points). Also, notably, the enrollment, credit, and credential impact estimates are larger by the end of Year 4 than at the end of Year 2 (the follow-up period for the initial, short-term report), and positive impacts on college enrollment in Year 4 are as large as in Year 2, raising the possibility that educational credential impacts may continue to grow.

  • VIDA did not have a detectable impact on earnings in quarters 12-13, the confirmatory outcome in the employment domain.

In Quarters 12-13 both the treatment and control groups earned somewhat over $6,000. As expected, in quarters 2 through 5, a period in which VIDA had large positive enrollment impacts, the program had negative impacts on earnings. From quarter 6 through 16, there were no positive or negative impacts on earnings.

  • VIDA affected few other employment-related outcomes.

As expected by the theory of change, a smaller proportion of the treatment group worked than did the control group in a period of high levels of active participation in VIDA (quarters 3 through 6), but not afterwards. At three years, VIDA increased the proportion of treatment group members working in jobs requiring at least mid-level skills by almost 6 percentage points: 44 percent of the treatment group versus 39 percent of the control group. But the program did not affect average hourly wages.

  • VIDA had few effects on other economic outcomes.

Consistent with the prominent role of enhanced financial support in the program, VIDA reduced participants’ student debt by slightly more than $1,100, or $3,312 in the treatment group compared to $4,416 in the control group. But it had few other effects on other financial outcomes.


The evaluation used an experimental design in which program applicants were assigned at random to a treatment group that could access the program or to a control group that could not. It then compared their outcomes. Between November 2011 and June 2014, a total of 958 program applicants were randomly assigned (478 to the treatment group and 480 to the control group). This impact study used data from a follow-up survey conducted three years after random assignment, four years of education records from VIDA’s partner colleges, and four years of earnings records from the National Directory of New Hires. Some analyses in this report extend to five years of education and earnings records for a cohort of early study enrollees that represent 80 percent of the full sample. The study measures impacts on training, employment, earnings, and other measures of job quality and family well-being. The study also analyzes the costs of VIDA.


Rolston, Howard, Elizabeth Copson, Larry Buron, and Samuel Dastrup. 2021. Valley Initiative for Development and Advancement (VIDA): Three-Year Impact Report. OPRE Report 2021-96. Washington, DC: Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation, Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.