RAND Corporation:

An 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 rely on propensity score matching and difference-in-differences frameworks in five districts across two states and approximately 35 high schools that offer the VE program. The primary samples for the analysis will be two cohorts of senior high school students, who will be surveyed between 2023–24 and 2025–26. The researchers will use a combination of administrative data and surveys during and after the intervention to identify comparable students to those enrolled in the VE course and compare academic and career readiness outcomes for eligible students who were assigned to the VE program and those who were not.

Study period: 5 years (07/01/2021–06/30/2027)

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. Dr. Lindsay Daugherty of RAND serves as Principal Investigator, and Dr. Isaac M. Opper, also of RAND, serves as Co-Principal Investigator.

An Evaluation of the Efficacy of Virtual Enterprises

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Team Members

Isaac M. Opper, Ph.D.

Isaac M. Opper Head Shot
Isaac M. Opper, Ph.D.
Economist / Affiliate Faculty, Pardee RAND Graduate School
RAND Corporation

Kathy Hughes, Ph.D.

Kathy Hughes Head Shot
Kathy Hughes, Ph.D.
CTE Research Network Director and Principal Investigator
American Institutes for Research