Work-based learning opportunities such as internships are currently one of the most influential ideas in public higher education and workforce development policy around the world.
But what do we really know about internships and their impacts on student outcomes such as wages, employment status, and career satisfaction? Do internships – especially those that are unpaid – serve to reproduce inequality by limiting these “high-impact” practices to those with ample and officially sanctioned forms of financial, cultural and social capital?
The College Internship Study aims to document the effects of internship participation and program characteristics on student outcomes such as college completion, employment and earnings, and career adaptability. The Study includes on online survey administered to all students nearing graduation, focus groups with students, and interviews with career services and area employers. Additionally, an “institutional map” documenting the present state of internship opportunities will be compiled for each campus. Within months, the CCWT will prepare a technical report for each institution with actionable recommendations for how each campus can improve its internship programs.
The first round of this study launched in April 2018 at three institutions: a Historically Black College and University (HBCU) in South Carolina, a technical college in Wisconsin, and a 4-year comprehensive university in Wisconsin. The second phase of the study will include research at a 4-year comprehensive and 3-year vocational college in North-eastern China, and in the Fall of 2018 CCWT will be administering the online survey component of the study on a national level with interested colleges and universities.
Given the widespread interest in work-based learning programs such as internships and apprenticeships, it is essential that policymakers and educators make decisions that are based on evidence from empirical research and practitioner experience. Yet discussions about internships are notable for their lack of grounding in the small but growing body of literature on the impacts that internship experiences and design features have on student outcomes. Center staff have conducted a preliminary review of the literature and wrote a research report that summarized the state-of-the-art on what we know about best practices in internship programming. Next steps in this project include a more in-depth systematic review of the literature in order to support the design of future research projects.