Cover: Evaluation of the Minnesota Department of Correction's Career Navigators Program

Evaluation of the Minnesota Department of Correction's Career Navigators Program

Final Report

Published Feb 15, 2022

by Lois M. Davis, Michelle C. Tolbert, Susan Turner

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Research Questions

  1. What were the goals of the CN program and how was it implemented?
  2. What factors facilitated or hindered implementation?
  3. Did the CN program address the needs of MNDOC and the population it served?
  4. What were the outcomes of the CN program for students?
  5. What are the broader lessons learned from career navigator programs in general?

Career navigators assist individuals with college and training opportunities when they return to the community and at the front end of the corrections process (while they are still incarcerated) to identify academic education and career technical education (CTE) programs that align with their interests and that will enable them to earn certificates or degrees in their chosen field. In recent years, career navigators have been increasingly viewed as an important part of correctional education, particularly given the significant increase in postsecondary education opportunities for incarcerated individuals.

The Minnesota Department of Corrections (MNDOC) recognized a key gap in its education strategic plan — the lack of career navigators — and conceived of the concept of its Career Navigators (CN) program to address this gap. The Ascendium Education Group (formerly the Great Lakes Higher Education Guaranty Corporation) awarded a grant to the RAND Corporation, in partnership with RTI International, to conduct an independent evaluation of MNDOC's CN program.

This research report presents the final findings from RAND's evaluation of the CN program. This report should be of interest to educators who develop and provide education programs for incarcerated adults, subject-matter experts who study correctional education, and to corrections officials and policymakers.

Key Findings

Process evaluation findings

  • The career navigators' responsibilities included providing CTE students with academic and career advice, facilitating contacts with employers and other supports, and outreach to employers and community stakeholders.
  • Facility staff noted that the CN program fit well with MNDOC's mission and students' education and training needs. The students also felt that the career navigators filled an important gap in their support needs.
  • It took time to clarify the role of the career navigators. with initial confusion between the career navigators, EMPLOY staff, and transition coordinators regarding their respective roles and the coordination of their efforts.
  • Delays in implementing the CN program had implications for the full implementation of the CN model, resulting in career navigators only able to provide services to program participants from April–May 2019 to about May 2020.

Outcomes evaluation findings

  • Because few members of the comparison group had been released from prison, we were unable to conduct propensity score matching to statistically control for differences between CN program participants and the comparison group. Only descriptive analyses were conducted.
  • Less than 5 percent of CN program participants were returned to custody within six months of release. At one year, 8.5 percent of program participants returned to prison. Return-to-custody rates for new convictions were lower for the CN participants than for the Minnesota population in general.
  • About half of individuals were employed during the first year after release. There were no statistically significant differences in employment results between the CN program participants and the comparison group.


  • Career navigators can fill an important role in supporting incarcerated students and addressing key gaps in departments of corrections' education plans. Career navigators assist students who are incarcerated in identifying and participating in education programs that align with their interests with the transition back to the communities including assisting with college and training opportunities upon return to the community. However, implementing such programs can be challenging.
  • States can use the lessons learned from MNDOC's CN program when considering implementing a similar type of program for students who are incarcerated.

This study was sponsored by the Ascendium Education Group and conducted in the Justice Policy Program within RAND Social and Economic Well-Being and RAND Education and Labor.

This report is part of the RAND research report series. RAND reports present research findings and objective analysis that address the challenges facing the public and private sectors. All RAND reports undergo rigorous peer review to ensure high standards for research quality and objectivity.

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