Current Projects

The Boston Youth Credit Building Initiative

credt building

Client: City of Boston, Office of Financial Empowerment and Working Credit, NFP

Funder: Citi Community Development and City of Boston

Principal Investigator: Alicia Sasser Modestino

Co- Principal Investigator: Constance Martin (City of Boston, Office of Financial Empowerment)

Award: $250,000

Description: The current credit reporting system in the U.S. creates a barrier for millions of low-income individuals with poor or no credit to fully participate in the mainstream financial system.  Yet good credit is essential to achieving and maintaining financial stability, accessing opportunities, and building a future that allows individuals to pursue their career and life goals.  The Boston Youth Credit Building Initiative, developed by Mayor Walsh’s Office of Financial Empowerment and implemented by Working Credit NFP, aims to build financial capability among low-income young adults.  Specifically, the program provides a workshop that teaches participants how the credit reporting system works, one-on-one financial coaching on how to build or improve their credit history, and access to a secured loan and savings product that can be used to directly improve their credit score—at a time when many of these individuals are becoming financially independent.  The basic premise of the program is to act as an “early intervention” to boost financial capability and develop good financial habits at a formative time when individuals are starting to build their credit history.

To our knowledge, the Boston Youth Credit Building Initiative is one of the first in the U.S. to implement such a program for young adults and evaluate the outcomes in a rigorous manner.  In the course of our evaluation, we aim to determine what types of outcomes are impacted by the Boston YACBI, how these impacts are achieved, and for whom the impacts are the largest.  To evaluate the program’s impact, we will use random assignment to compare the outcomes of individuals in the treatment group to those in the control group at baseline and at 6 months, 12 months, and 18 months.  The evaluation will employ a mixed-methods approach using both quantitative information from pre- and post- surveys and administrative data as well as more narrative qualitative information gleaned from focus groups and interviews.  We will evaluate direct outcomes such as gaining skills and knowledge, building a credit history, and maintaining good credit as well as indirect outcomes such as the ability to maintain employment and complete college.  The goal is to better understand how to help young adults develop and maintain an optimal credit profile that can yield positive benefits over their lifetimes and serve as a potential model for other cities looking to develop similar types of programs.

Executive Summary: An Evaluation of the Boston Youth Credit Building Initiative Baseline Report

Full Report: An Evaluation of the Boston Youth Credit Building Initiative Baseline Report


A Multi-Year Evaluation of the Boston Youth Summer Employment Program and Features to Reduce Inequality across Groups


Client: City of Boston, Office of Workforce Development

Funder: William T. Grant Foundation

Principal Investigator: Alicia Sasser Modestino

Co- Principal Investigator: Trinh Nguyen (City of Boston, Office of Workforce Development)

Award: $280,714

Description: Since its inception in 1990, the Boston Summer Youth Employment Program (SYEP) has become a national model bringing together city, state, and private funding of nearly $10 million per year to employ about 10,000 youth aged 14 to 24 with roughly 900 local employers. Early work experience—such as that provided by summer jobs—is widely believed to be an important tool for enhancing the future employment prospects and earnings potential of low-income youth. This project seeks to understand not only whether SYEP improve outcomes among youth, but also how these impacts are achieved and for whom these impacts are the greatest. The evaluation will be conducted over the course of three years and seeks to measure (1) the baseline impact of the program on both short- and longer-term outcomes, (2) whether the effects endure beyond the first year and the effect of multiple years of participation, (3) the effectiveness of specific features of the program including the career readiness curriculum and private sector job placement.

Using an embedded randomized control trial, we will explore how the program affects youth behavior during the summer and how these short-term program impacts relate to improvements in outcomes during the subsequent one to three years after participation. Using a pre/post survey, we will measure short-term program effects on financial literacy, job readiness skills, post-secondary aspirations, and community engagement that occur during the summer.  We will then match this information to individual administrative records on employment, school, and criminal activity. By linking the survey responses to the administrative data, we will determine which of the self-reported program impacts lead to greater improvements in longer-term outcomes to better understand how the Boston SYEP affects youth. We will also conduct separate focus groups of treatments and controls enhance our understanding of the mechanisms by which outcomes are achieved.  Our hope is that this research can help guide program staff as they look to expand and enhance their programming efforts and also help inform City policymakers seeking to expand opportunity for all Boston youth.



Upskilling During the Great Recession: Why Do Employers Demand Greater Skill When Workers Are Plentiful?


Funder: Russell Sage Foundation

Principal Investigator: Alicia Sasser Modestino

Co-Principal Investigators: Phil Moss (UMass Lowell), Daniel Shoag (Harvard Kennedy School)

Award: $35,000

Description: Many jobs now require more education and experience than they did prior to the Great Recession.  Indeed, previous research shows that employers opportunistically engaged in this upskilling behavior by raising education and experience requirements during the Great Recession in response to increases in the supply of relevant job seekers (Modestino, Shoag and Ballance 2016).  Policymakers want to know if this “upskilling” is a temporary phenomenon related to the increased supply of applicants during the recession or if it represents a long-term shift in employer skill requirements related to increased competition or new technology.

This project seeks to understand what forces might be driving this behavior and to distinguish among alternative explanations for employers raising requirements using a mixed methods approach.  First, using “big data” on 90 million job postings provided by Burning Glass Technologies, we will explore the characteristics of jobs have increased their skill requirements over time either temporarily or permanently in terms of industry, occupation, geography, and skill level.  Second, we will conduct a series of interviews with 50 select firms regarding their job openings, skill requirements, and hiring practices from four key industries in Massachusetts:  finance and banking, healthcare, life sciences and manufacturing.  The combination of both quantitative and qualitative data will provide insights into the prevalence of changing skill requirements while better understanding the mechanisms for this trend.  Our goal is to make policy recommendations for better investments in education and training for job seekers that can address potential skills gaps in the labor market as states seek to implement new requirements under the 2014 Workforce Investment and Opportunity Act (WIOA).



Security Educator Training for CAE Community Expansion

Security Educator

Funder: National Security Agency

Principal Investigator: Agnes Chan

Co- Principal Investigator: Alicia Sasser Modestino

Award: $250,000

Description: There is increasing evidence that the need for cybersecurity personnel in the private sector is outstripping the educational establishment’s ability to produce them.  An analysis of Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) information revealed that in 2015 more than 209,000 cybersecurity jobs in the United States were unfilled and that job postings for such positions increased by 74 percent from 2010 to 2015.  In an effort to attract more students into the cybersecurity field and in search for some standardization of training in the area, the National Security Agency (NSA) created the Centers of Academic Excellence (CAE) in Information Assurance Education (IAE) in 1998, and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) joined in the effort as a partner in 2004.

While these programs have been quite successful in increasing the number of students interested in cybersecurity, a lack of skilled faculty members to educate the students has impeded the nation’s ability in building a strong cybersecurity corp.  In this project, we will conduct an in- depth study of the educator shortage problem, including factors such as institutional support, specific areas of greatest demand, and incentives to teach.  We will then work with cybersecurity stakeholders, government and private industries, as well as academe to identify strategies and programs that can entice trained professionals to participate in cybersecurity education.


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