UVA Analysis Finds Significant Wage Gains for Graduates of Merit America
Analysis from Dr. Ben Castleman finds $18,700 average annual wage increase for Merit America graduates, three or more months post-graduation.
WASHINGTON, April 7, 2022 /PRNewswire/ — Graduates of the nonprofit education provider Merit America saw an average annual wage increase of $18,700 three or more months post-graduation, according to a new analysis conducted by Dr. Ben Castleman, the Newton and Rita Meyers Associate Professor in the Economics of Education at the University of Virginia.
The analysis, which examined data from the first 1,000 graduates of Merit America’s programs, indicates that combining online learning with cohort-based coaching and support has the potential to drive significant wage gains among low-wage workers without college degrees. Over 80 percent of Merit America graduates at least 3 months from graduation experienced a wage increase, from an average pre-program salary of $24,000 to an average post-program salary of over $50,000 — a $26,000 average wage gain.
“While short-form education programs have increased in popularity in recent years, there hasn’t historically been robust evidence on whether such programs lead to meaningful wage increases,” said Dr. Castleman, who also founded and directs UVA’s Nudge4 Solutions Lab. “These findings provide compelling initial evidence of the potential large impacts of accelerated learning models on participants’ wages. We’re looking forward to continuing our work with Merit America to track longer-term wage gains in the months and years to come and to use comprehensive administrative data sources and experimental methods, with the joint goal of setting a new standard for rigorous evaluation in the workforce development space.”
According to research from Opportunity@Work, workers without college degrees take an average of 30 years on the job to attain the starting salary of college graduates. Against a backdrop of persistent racial and socioeconomic disparities in college access and completion, the new findings suggest that Merit America’s model, which pairs short-form learning with intensive coaching and mentorship for low-wage workers without college degrees, has the potential to help close this opportunity gap by dramatically accelerating the earnings of workers without degrees. Initial evidence also suggests that these wage gains are likely to persist over time: among all graduates Merit America has helped access new roles since its inception in 2018, 89% report they are still retained in their new career.
“Ensuring US workers are equipped with relevant skills and have access to upwardly-mobile career paths is essential to achieving our mission,” said Lizz Pawlson, Managing Director of The Studio @ Blue Meridian. “These initial research findings provide a promising early indicator that fast and affordable programs like Merit America have positive impact on wages.” Merit America has leveraged the flexible funding from The Studio @ Blue Meridian to invest in evidence-building.
Founded in 2018, Merit America works with major employers including Google, Amazon, and Infosys to build scalable pathways to upwardly mobile careers for Americans without college degrees. Merit America has served over 2,000 learners to date and aims to reach more than 10,000 learners annually by 2024. Over 83% of Merit America learners graduate the program, and beyond the wage increases, cite meaningful increases in their career satisfaction, life happiness, and ability to provide for their families. Merit America’s work builds on a large body of research indicating that increased wages generate significant additional monetary and non-monetary value for individuals, their families, the government and employers even beyond the wage gains themselves.
“These findings suggest that since our founding, Merit America has driven an estimated $100 million in near-term wage increases for our graduates — a milestone on our journey to help put $1 billion in wage gains into the pockets of hard-working Americans,” said Rebecca Taber Staehelin, Co-Founder and Co-CEO of Merit America. “While this is only one part of a broader collective effort to reimagine education for workers without degrees, it shows it’s possible to track the outcomes of education and workforce programs in ways that are rigorous, transparent, and most importantly, useful for adult learners themselves.”
To learn more about the analysis and results, view the research memo.