Because many individuals with low incomes need occupational skills to improve their economic outcomes and need support with basic skills to succeed in classwork, the I-BEST model integrated these two types of instruction.
Colleges had flexibility in creating their I-BEST programs. However, colleges had to complete a comprehensive application that detailed the local demand for each occupational field that was offered, as well as a roadmap to the full educational pathway for that program beyond the initial classes. Examples of the I-BEST programs offered at the three colleges include welding, precision machining, nursing assistant, and clerical assistant. Colleges could also change course offerings in response to shifts in the local labor market. For example, BTC stopped offering an I-BEST electrical program partway through the study in response to faculty concerns about decreased demand for electricians in the construction industry.
The core components of the I-BEST model included the following:
- Education. Colleges offered courses as part of structured career pathways that led to a postsecondary credential and in-demand jobs in the local labor market. Individuals interested in a particular occupational program, such as a nursing assistant, welding, or clerical administration program, could apply to it and enroll only if they were randomly selected to participate.
- Occupational training. Classes in each program were team-taught, with basic skills instructors paired with occupational instructors for at least 50 percent of occupational training class time.
To offset the costs associated with implementing I-BEST, including curriculum development, instructor preparation, and added instruction, enhanced state funding reimbursed colleges at 1.75 times the normal rate for a full-time equivalent student. Funding associated with the PACE study enabled the three colleges to implement the following enhancements for their I-BEST programs:
- Advising. A dedicated advisor at each college provided students with academic and career guidance.
- Supportive services. Students in I-BEST programs could access additional financial support to pay for training costs not covered through financial aid. This included the cost of tuition, books, tools, other course materials, or transportation.
The study found that, although the three colleges varied in how they delivered I-BEST across the different occupational programs, they largely implemented the intervention as designed. An example of how the programs varied was in how the basic skills and occupational instructors divided their roles as teachers. In some programs, the basic skills instructor jointly delivered content with the occupational instructor. In others, the instructors took turns teaching or acting as a student to ask clarifying questions. The study also found that teaching teams that worked together for multiple classes were better prepared to deliver content and guide students.