In January 2021, a Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education (FIPSE) grant was awarded to support Exponential Pathways (XP)–a national career-exploration platform that aims to be personalized, scalable, and adaptable and is designed to assist low-income, socially, and economically disadvantaged high school students and adult learners as they explore pathways to postsecondary education and/or rewarding careers. The grant was awarded to the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning (CAEL) along with its partners, VantagePoint, The Mentor Method, the American Council on Education (ACE), and Emsi. ACE has brought on HEI as a partner in the evaluation of the XP platform.
The XP platform is a website where students can explore local careers and view the pathway and skills needed for those careers. Students can use the platform to build on their existing skills as well as learn new skills tailored to their career choices. XP can also be used by students to learn virtually from professionals in their chosen fields and build a network. This platform is considered unique in that it localizes the user experience and expands marketability by showing users intentional actions that they can take to build skills needed for their chosen career paths.
HEI’s goals in the evaluation reflect the following themes:
- Design and implementation – the process of developing, testing, and modifying the XP Connected Pathways tool.
- Reaching the target population – whether and to what extent the target student populations are being reached.
- User experience/usability of the application – understanding the ways in which students are using the tool and feedback that leads to changes.
- Value to the target population – whether students see value in the experience and are creating plans through the tool.
- Scalability and sustainability – the extent to which Connected Pathways is replicated in other sites and with other students, as well as its ability to be freely available after the grant period.
As with all of our projects, we are using an appreciative (strengths-based) and collaborative approach, reflecting the importance of including stakeholders and participants in the evaluation design and implementation by meeting at the end of each grant year. In addition, when gathering data from multiple sources and sites—especially efforts prioritizing specific populations—we recognize the importance of adaptability. This includes embracing the likelihood of making changes to data collection approaches, study timelines, or other related protocols over the course of an engagement to meet project needs.
We are pleased to be working on this evaluation alongside CAEL and ACE, and hope that the results prove useful to the future of the program!
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By Ashley Mineard, Administrative Support Specialist