Current Projects

Student-led, Participatory Action Research to Examine Higher Education Issues

Participatory Action Research (PAR) is a partnership approach to research involving academic researchers and community actors with the aim of gaining a more grounded understanding of a given phenomenon through shared, collaborative decision-making that positions community members as researchers rather than research subjects. CCWT conducts qualitative PAR projects with UW-Madison undergraduate students that focus on central issues in higher education. Because these issues directly impact students’ lives, their perspectives as researchers are particularly valuable.

Documenting the Aims of Higher Education in Wisconsin

Study 1: Documenting the aims of higher education in Wisconsin

The high costs of higher education and its benefits to students and to society are central issues in the legislative and public debate on the role of higher education in the state. Yet too often debates about higher education, and its ultimate purpose for students and the public, do not include the perspectives and experiences of community members from different walks of life.

In order to enrich and inform this debate, CCWT worked with a team of UW students to conduct interviews with Wisconsin residents to document and identify their views on the aims of higher education and subsequent implications for public policy. Documenting the Aims of Higher Education Report

Study 2: Our HMoob American College Paj Ntaub

Hmoob Study Staff

“Our HMoob American College Paj Ntaub” is an ongoing qualitative research project conducted in partnership with a student organization at UW-Madison called the Hmong American Studies Committee (HASC) that examines the sociocultural and institutional factors impacting the college experiences of HMoob American students. The term “Paj Ntaub,” or story cloth, is a narrative pictographic representation in fabric of the experiences of the HMoob people, which often address their history during the U.S. wars in Southeast Asia and as refugees. We call our study “Our HMoob American College Paj Ntaub” because this study presents the stories of the lives of HMoob American college students. The study uses interviews and observations with HMoob American college students as well as artifact data from around the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus and classrooms to better understand the college experiences of HMoob American students through their voices and lived experiences. Check out our study flyer for more information.


Documenting higher education for refugees in Wisconsin

The study is an ethnographic inquiry to investigate the pathways and obstacles that refugees face accessing and succeeding in college and transitioning to the post-college workforce in Wisconsin. Stage 1 of the project, which is ongoing, is to interview, observe, and collect documents about the work of a sample of refugee resettlement providers, higher education educators and administrators, and refugee community leaders who support higher education for refugees; and Stage 2 will be to ethnographically track students’ experiences with this process through interviews and observations as they work toward the goal of college attainment.  This research will be the first of its kind to document the policy and sociocultural contexts of the resettlement-college-workforce transition process, and to document ethnographically how refugees manage and experience this process. Flyer.


Skilled Non-College Occupations

Hmoob Study Staff

This research project aims to (1) critically assess existing definitions of skilled non-college occupations, also known as “middle-skill” jobs, or jobs that require significant training after high school but do not typically require a bachelor’s degree; (2) offer a new definition if existing definitions are proven to be unsatisfactory; (3) provide an in-depth exploratory analysis of skilled non-college occupations in the U.S. at the national, state and sub-state levels; (4) analyze the economic, social, and public policy implications that can be derived from the empirical identification of skilled non-college occupations. The goal of the project is to offer the most rigorous and comprehensive analysis to date of skilled non-college occupations in the U.S., aiming to inform post-secondary education and training decisions at the individual and societal levels.

Skilled Non-College Occupations in the U.S. (blog postresearch brieffull report
Skilled Non-College Occupations in Wisconsin (in progress)
Skilled Non-College Occupations After the Great Recession (in progress)


The College Intership Study

The College Internship Study

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.

The College Internships Study flyer PDF

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.

The College Internships Study flyer PDF



Literature review on best practices in designing internship programs

Literature review on best practices in designing internship programs

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.


Student experiences with career advising and decision-making

This research strand focuses on student experiences with career advising programming and how these services influence their career decision-making, self-efficacy, and self-exploration capabilities.

CCWT staff are available to conduct needs assessments on college student perceptions of and interactions with career services at your college or university.  These assessments can be customized to your institution’s needs, and would result in a technical report of our findings and recommendations. Please contact Amy Rivera for more information.

Career services report: Midwestern State

Student experiences with career services

In the spring of 2017 a pilot study on undergraduates’ experiences with career services was launched at UW–Madison. This mixed-methods study included focus groups and an online survey with students, with the aim to document their perspectives on the utility of their college’s career services offices, influential factors shaping their career choices, sources of information for making these career decisions, and their tolerance for ambiguity.  One of the primary questions guiding this study was whether or not experiences with particular career services programs impacted students' career adaptability, which encompasses their curiosity, control, confidence and concern regarding careers.

Read the technical report that we delivered to career services from this study


Student experiences with career services and their impact on career adaptability

CCWT are currently designing a new study on these topics that will build on the pilot study at UW-Madison, but with a greater focus on the following topics: (1) the effects of career services on students' social capital and career-related networks, (2) experiences with career services of first-generation, low-income, and/or under-represented minority students, and (3) training and workplace experience of college career advisors.