An Experimental Evaluation of the Efficacy of Virtual Enterprises
About the Research Study
Many high schools struggle to ensure that all graduates are prepared for college and the workforce, and employers consistently report difficulty in finding workers with strong employability skills. Incorporating work-based learning (WBL) into the curriculum as part of a career and technical education (CTE) program may improve students’ readiness for college and careers. School-based enterprises (SBE), in which students operate a business that produces and sells goods or services, are one form of WBL. However, there is little causal evidence showing the impacts of WBL on student academic or employment outcomes, and none showing the impacts of SBE.
This study will provide the first causal evidence on the efficacy and cost-effectiveness of Virtual Enterprises (VE), a year-long course in which students run a virtual firm. Individual students assume specific roles, such as CEO, marketing manager, or human resources director. Students then work together to develop and implement a strategy for the firm and participate in a virtual economy with other VE firms. The curriculum is provided by Virtual Enterprises International (VEI), a nonprofit organization that also provides training for the VE teachers (known as facilitators), provides virtual start-up capital to the firms, and runs the online marketplace in which firms sell their goods or services. VE has been adopted by over 430 schools across 18 states, and prior implementation studies indicate that it has the potential to increase student motivation and employability skills.
The research team will conduct a randomized controlled trial (RCT) that includes districts across three states and approximately 40 high schools that have an oversubscribed VE program. Eligible students from two cohorts (school years 2022–23 and 2023–24) will be randomized into the VE program. The researchers will use a combination of administrative data, assessments, and surveys during and after the intervention to compare academic and employment outcomes for eligible students who were assigned to the VE program and those who were not. Additional data will be collected to measure students’ employability skills and to support the implementation study.
Study period: 5 years (07/01/2021–06/30/2026)
This project is supported by the Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education, through Grant R305A210198 to RAND Corporation.
About the Research Team
The project is led by RAND Corporation in partnership with the American Institutes for Research (AIR) and Virtual Enterprises International. Principal Investigator Dr. Fatih Unlu of RAND alsoserves as Co-Principal Investigator of the network study The Evaluation of Career and College Promise, and Co-Principal Investigator Dr. Kathy Hughes of AIR also serves as the Principal Investigator and Project Director for the network.