Job Corps:

Better Targeted Career Training and Improved Preenrollment Information Could Enhance Female Residential Student Recruitment and Retention

GAO-09-470: Published: Jun 2, 2009. Publicly Released: Jun 22, 2009.

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Established in 1964, Job Corps is the nation's largest residential, educational, and career training program for economically disadvantaged youths. Administered by the Department of Labor (Labor), Job Corps received about $1.6 billion in program year 2007 and served about 60,000 students. Some have expressed concern that Job Corps centers are not meeting planned enrollment goals, particularly for women. To address these concerns, GAO reviewed the (1) extent to which Job Corps centers are operating at or near capacity for residential students; (2) major factors that affect the recruitment and retention of residential students, particularly females; and (3) steps, if any, Labor has taken to address the recruitment and retention of residential students. To address these objectives, GAO analyzed Labor's enrollment data, surveyed Job Corps recruiters and center directors, and visited seven Job Corps centers.

Overall, the Job Corps program has been operating at or near capacity for male residential students, but under capacity for female residential students during program years 2005 through 2007. During each of those years, Job Corps achieved between 95 and 98 percent of the planned enrollment for male residential students nationwide, but about 80 percent or less for female residential students. In fact, about one-half of the centers that enrolled female residential students in program year 2007 were below 80 percent of their planned enrollment for that group. Three key factors affect Job Corps' ability to recruit and retain residential students, particularly female residential students--availability of career training options, complete and accurate preenrollment information, and quality of center life. The selection and availability of career training offerings in occupations of interest to students play a major role in Job Corps' ability to recruit students, particularly female residential students, according to officials that we surveyed. A key factor affecting both recruitment and retention is ensuring that students have accurate preenrollment information about Job Corps. Officials noted that having realistic expectations of life at a center is especially important for female students. Finally, center officials said that the quality of life at the centers, including the living conditions and the sense of safety, affects students' willingness to stay in the program. Labor has begun making improvements in career training offerings, preenrollment information, and quality of center life in an effort to address issues related to the recruitment and retention of residential students. While Labor has gradually made more training opportunities available that are likely to appeal to female students, these are typically at a center's request and not part of an overall strategy. In addition, Labor has taken some steps to ensure that students receive detailed preenrollment information, but has not yet expanded these efforts nationally. Finally, Labor has several efforts under way to improve the quality of center life for students, including ensuring a drug-free environment and providing child care facilities for single parents.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Job Corps reviewed and refined its overall approach to female engagement and retention in support of that goal. For example, Job Corps has created female-targeted recruitment and outreach materials that provide a clear picture of the Job Corps program and detailed descriptions of the career training offered at each Job Corps center. In addition to identifying high-growth, high-demand occupations for all students, Job Corps continues to align career technical training programs with industry certifications, several of which will create higher earning potential for female graduates. Job Corps also launched new green-collar training targeted at attracting more female participation in the Job Corps program. For example, Job Corps launched nine pilot programs in Electronic Health Records (EHR). This new green occupational area is a crossover between health information technology and business, involving electronic recordkeeping and health informatics. The EHR certification is issued by the National Healthcareer Association, the largest provider of certification for allied health professions. Currently, 60 percent of Job Corps pilot participants are female.

    Recommendation: To improve the recruitment and retention of residential students, the Secretary of Labor should review the availability and selection of career training offerings at centers--particularly those centers that are experiencing difficulty with female enrollment-- and assess whether centers need to adjust their career training options to offer more career training that is both attractive to women and that could lead to careers that will enable women to become self-sufficient.

    Agency Affected: Department of Labor

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Job Corps has developed and updated materials to provide clear and concise program information to prospective students and their families. The outreach and recruitment materials have been improved to provide clear expectations of what to expect whiled enrolled as a Job Corps student. The materials that have been updated include: recruitment brochures, center-specific one-pagers, parents' guide, and a female recruitment magazine. The new materials developed include Career Technical Training (CTT) sheets. In addition to the update and development of recruitment and outreach materials, Job Corps has also conducted quarterly webinar meetings and trainings with all Outreach and Admissions (OA) contractors in an effort to have more direct communication with contractor staff and managers. The webinars are an opportunity to inform OA contractors on policy issues and programmatic updates to insure that OA contractors provide consistent information across sites, and that the information is current.

    Recommendation: To improve the recruitment and retention of residential students, the Secretary of Labor should expand current efforts to ensure that outreach and admissions contractors across all six regions consistently provide potential students with complete and accurate information on all aspects of Job Corps, including providing specific information about the center in which the student will be enrolled.

    Agency Affected: Department of Labor

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Job Corps DVDs are complete and have been distributed in both English and Spanish to Outreach and Admissions (OA), center, and career transition staff. The DVDs will assist recruitment efforts by providing applicants with complete and accurate information on all aspects of the Job Corps program. Center-specific information is available to assist prospective students in selecting a Job Corps center that best meets their needs and interests. The center DVDs are being transcribed for closed-caption so they can be posted on the Job Corps Web site and available for virtual tours for prospective students who are not able to travel and visit a center prior to enrollment.

    Recommendation: To improve the recruitment and retention of residential students, the Secretary of Labor should explore the feasibility or cost-effectiveness of developing video or online virtual tours for all centers.

    Agency Affected: Department of Labor


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