Research shows a skills-based tertiary education program in Rwanda had a positive impact on its graduates’ academic and labor market outcomes.
Youth unemployment and underemployment in sub-Saharan Africa remain high, despite a wave of vocational training programs and other active labor market policies introduced over the last decade. The issue is often attributed to a skills mismatch between tertiary education graduates and available positions in local workforces. Whereas many policies focus on building these skills among working-age adults through short-term vocational programs, an alternative approach is focusing on the rapidly growing ranks of university enrolled students.
Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU) and Kepler have partnered to provide high-quality, low-cost, and labor market-relevant higher education to low-income students. The goal is to improve student labor market outcomes using a blended learning model of online coursework and in-person instruction, support services, and career preparation. The model was established in 2013 in Rwanda, where two out of three youth are underemployed.
Between 2013 and 2016, IDinsight partnered with Kepler to evaluate the impact of the SNHU-Kepler program on student learning. We compared outcomes of SNHU-Kepler students to a matched comparison group recruited from local Rwandan universities. Although the two groups had similar scores at baseline, at the end of the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd years of the program, SNHU-Kepler students performed significantly better than matched comparison students on academic assessments testing cognitive skills, English comprehension, critical thinking, and computer literacy.
In 2019, IDinsight followed up with the same students between three months and three years after graduation to measure the impact of the SNHU-Kepler program on long-term academic and labor market outcomes. We find that program graduates continue to perform better than their matched peers on skills prioritized by employers in the local labor market, including computer literacy, English language, and cognitive skills.
Figure 1: 2019 academic assessment outcomes, comparison and SNHU-Kepler
Graduates have better labor market outcomes than the comparison group. They are twice as likely to be employed immediately after graduating; they secure jobs with higher salaries, longer hours, and written contracts. Comparison students appear to eventually catch up to SNHU-Kepler students in terms of employment rates, but SNHU-Kepler students continue to earn twice as much and work 33% more hours as their matched peers several years after graduation.
Figure 2: 2019 employment rate, comparison and SNHU-Kepler; Figure 3: 2019 average monthly income, comparison and SNHU-Kepler
Our evaluation suggests that skills-based blended learning university programs could offer a cost-effective and scalable model for bridging the skills gap among youth in sub-Saharan Africa. We hope to see further piloting and evaluations of this type of program, as well as research that can disentangle the relative contributions of the curricular changes versus university career services or other aspects specific to the SNHU-Kepler model on labor market outcomes.
IDinsight’s evaluations provided critical evidence in the early years of SNHU-Kepler program design and implementation. Since our early research, SNHU has expanded the program to five additional sites: Kiziba Refugee Camp in Rwanda, Khayelitsha informal settlement in Cape Town, South Africa, Kakuma Refugee Camp in Kenya, Dzaleka Refugee Camp in Malawi, and Beqaa Valley in Lebanon. Click here to learn more about IDinsight’s additional research on SNHU-Kepler’s work in Cape Town, South Africa and Rwanda’s Kiziba Refugee Camp.
 We used a quasi-experimental design to match the first two cohorts of SNHU-Kepler students, before they started their program in 2013 and 2014, with similar students starting at local universities at the same time and tracked the two groups. To identify comparable matches, we simulated the SNHU-Kepler admissions process, and we filtered out comparison students who had heard of SNHU-Kepler to reduce selection bias.
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