New analysis using paystubs, offer letters and self-reported salary data reveals alumni of nonprofit Merit America move from earning $26K average salary to $50K average salary, three or more months post-program completion.

August 1, 2023 — Today, Merit America, a national nonprofit that creates pathways to family-sustaining careers for Americans stuck in low-wage jobs, released findings from a longitudinal wage analysis with Professors Ben Castleman and Kelli Bird at the University of Virginia. The analysis examined data (including paystubs, offer letters and self-reported data) from their first 3,000 program completers, and found that on average alumni experienced an annual wage increase of $24,000 – 3 months or more after completing the program.

The pre-program wage of Merit America participants closely mirrored the national average for low-income workers, at just $26,000 annually even with recent inflation. After completing Merit America, alumni reported a new average annual salary of $50,000 at least 3 months post-program, validating Merit America’s long-standing mission of providing equitable, accessible and affordable upskilling programs, designed for the more than 53 million Americans stuck in low-wage jobs. This latest analysis was led by Dr. Ben Castleman, the Newton and Rita Meyers Associate Professor in the Economics of Education at the University of Virginia.

In addition to significant wage increases, Merit America reported that 80% of participants completed their programs in the analysis time frame, at a time when the current national six-year completion rate for community college is just 42%

“Our mission at Merit America is to break down the barriers that keep talented, historically marginalized candidates from reaching high-paying careers,” said Rebecca Taber Staehelin, Co-Founder and Co-CEO of Merit America. “It should never be too hard or too late to start a new career, and we need more options to get ahead than a traditional 4-year degree. These strong outcomes show that fast, flexible, and affordable pathways work.”

Since its founding in 2018, more than 7,500 learners across the country have participated in Merit America programs, which allow participants to learn while they work and pay only when they have a successful outcome. Merit America has tripled the size of its operations and employee headcount year-over-year, which will help the organization achieve even greater results moving forward. A recent analysis by The Bridgespan Group indicated the organization is on track to drive $1B in projected, cumulative wage gains for low-wage workers by the end of 2025, generating $31 in wage gains for every $1 in philanthropy.  

“At Merit America, we’ve worked closely with our learners and employer partners to create a scalable bridge from the grind of low-wage work to upwardly-mobile careers,” said Connor Diemand-Yauman, Co-Founder and Co-CEO of Merit America. “These results validate our commitment to providing learners with the tools, support and skills needed to overcome systemic barriers.”

Over 3,000 learners had completed the Merit America immersion program during the period studied. The analysis by Drs. Ben Castleman and Kelli Bird examined pre- and post-program wage data from 60% of alumni for whom Merit America had collected pre- and post-program wages, 69% who were 3+ months post-program, and 82% of alumni 12+ months post-program.

“This analysis provides further promising indication of Merit America’s potential impact on learner outcomes. Through upcoming quasi-experimental and experimental evaluations that will incorporate administrative wage data for most learners, we are excited to collaborate with Merit to continue to build towards more rigorous impact evaluations of this innovative workforce training model,” said Dr. Castleman.

The full wage analysis is available here and for more information about Merit America, please visit



Merit America is a national nonprofit preparing workers stuck in low-wage roles for family-sustaining careers at scale. Named by the New York Times as “the hybrid future of training programs for the disadvantaged,” we offer fast and flexible education and job success programs that work for working adults, and are aligned to the most in-demand roles in the fastest-growing sectors of the U.S. economy. Founded in 2018, we now serve thousands of working learners across the country –on track to our goal of driving $1B in wage gains by 2025. For more information, visit