Documenting the Aims of Higher Education in Wisconsin
Bailey B. Smolarek, Matthew Wolfgram, Micayla Darrow, Cassandra Duernberger, Cassidy Hartzog, Kathryn Hendrickson Gagen, Ryan Mulrooney, David Singer, and Isabella Vang (2018)

Summary: This report presents a community-based participatory action research project conducted by a group of University of Wisconsin–Madison undergraduate students to document how Wisconsin residents view the aims of higher education in the state. While questions regarding the purposes of higher education have long been debated, recent reforms in Wisconsin regarding higher education funding, governance, and objectives have brought new attention to these issues. Namely, there is an increased emphasis among Wisconsin’s elected officials to restructure the state’s public higher education system to be more tightly aligned with business interests. These reforms have garnered considerable outcry from those who oppose them, which has contributed to the state’s deep political polarization. In the midst of this context, our research team developed a qualitative research study to better understand how Wisconsin residents currently view the aims of higher education, which we conceptualized as any schooling past high school. Our research team is unique in that the people arguably most affected by higher education policy—students—are the researchers. We contend that this model offers promising avenues for higher education policy research because of its capacity to include perspectives that are often excluded. After conducting in-depth interviews with a diverse sample of Wisconsin residents (N=40), our research team found that participants discussed an eclectic variety of aims rather than only one aim for higher education. The aims most commonly discussed included economic development and employment, civic and community engagement, social mobility, personal growth and enrichment, and critical thinking and interpersonal skills. Additionally, participants discussed concerns regarding obstacles that impede access to and achievement in higher education, such as affordability and institutional supports. Our study indicates that Wisconsin residents do not want higher education to be focused on a single aim. Rather, it demonstrates the need to value the multiple aims higher education serves and support higher education students.

Research Briefs

Mun Yuk Chin (2018). Brief Report: Career Advisor Experiences in a 2-year College

Abstract: Technical and community colleges are increasingly scrutinized for their ability to generate positive job outcomes for their students. While some attention has been paid to understanding students’ experiences with their campus career services, there is limited research on career advisors’ experiences in supporting these students in today’s economy. In this brief report, we highlight the main themes identified by five career advisors in a 2-year college that illustrate their role and function, and the organizational and systemic constraints they face in their work.

Matías D. Scaglione (2018). Skilled Non-College Occupations in the U.S. WCER Working Paper No. 2018-7

Abstract: This paper presents a new approach to the identification of relatively skilled occupations that do not typically require a bachelor’s degree for entry. I call this group of occupations Skilled Non-College Occupations (SNCOs). The proposed approach relies heavily on a new skills index based on data from the Occupational Information Network (O*NET) sponsored by the U.S. Department of Labor. In contrast with studies that estimate that employment in so-called middle-skill jobs in the U.S. represents one third to nearly a half of total employment, this study estimates that the combined employment of SNCOs accounted for 16.2% of all jobs in 2016. Exploratory analysis shows that SNCOs (a) represent only one in five jobs that do not require a 4-year college degree for entry; (b) encompass a wide variety of occupations and industries, even though they are highly concentrated in a relatively small number of them; (c) usually pay above-average wages; (d) show a quite low correlation between wages and the skills scores; and (e) include a significant proportion of workers who are potentially underemployed in terms of their level of educational attainment.

For a shorter version of this paper see this research brief.

Hora, M.T. & Blackburn Cohen, C. (2018). Career services report: Midwestern State. University of Wisconsin-Madison. Center for Research on College-Workforce Transitions.

Abstract: This study documented the experiences of a group of undergraduate students at Midwestern State, with the aim to provide findings and actionable recommendations to student affairs professionals at this campus. This study sought to document how college students make decisions regarding their careers, whose advice they are most likely to seek, and how adaptable, confident, and proactive they are in regard to career planning. Insights into these issues may illuminate how today’s students are thinking about the world of work, which can help to inform how educators, student affairs professionals, and institutional leaders design and implement academic and career-related programs. In particular, career services professionals and institutional leaders would benefit from insights regarding whether or not their advising services are meeting students’ needs, particularly for first-generation, underrepresented minority and international students whose goals, interests, and concerns may vary from upper-income white students.This report includes findings from an online survey and in-person focus groups conducted with a group of undergraduate student respondents from Midwestern State in the Spring of 2017, and is an example of the type of applied research that CCWT is conducting.

Mun Yuk Chin, Chelsea A. Blackburn Cohen, and Matthew T. Hora (2018). The Role of Career Services Programs and Sociocultural Factors in Student Career Development. WCER Working Paper No. 2018-8.

Abstract: Existing research on the effectiveness of college career services centers (CSCs) has primarily focused on students’ rates of utilization and their satisfaction with the programs and services offered. Based on survey (n = 372) and focus group data (n = 35) from undergraduate business students, we found that participants were most satisfied with the CSC’s provision of practical tools that enhanced employability and were least satisfied with the CSC’s integration of students’ backgrounds and interests during advising. Our qualitative analysis yielded three categories of contributors (i.e., sociocultural factors, independent activities, and institutional factors) to student career outcomes, which were psychological characteristics, career decisions, and social capital. Sociocultural factors were most prominently featured in students’ narratives of their experiences, in that they shaped how students leveraged institutional resources and how they engaged in independent activities as part of their career trajectories. Practical implications and future research directions are discussed.

For a shorter version of this paper see this research brief.

Hora, M.T., Wolfgram, M. & Thompson, S. (2017). What do we know about the impact of internships on student outcomes? Results from a preliminary review of the scholarly and practitioner literatures. Center for Research on College-Workforce Transitions Research Brief #2. University of Wisconsin-Madison

Abstract: Internships and other forms of work-based learning are widely viewed as promising programs that can provide college students with valuable skills, knowledge and abilities that can help ease their transition to the workforce. However, while a considerable amount of empirical and practitioner research exists on internships, the literature is limited by terminological imprecision, incomparability across countries and disciplines, and a lack of rigorous field studies on student outcomes. The empirical evidence indicates that internships improve students’ employability, academic outcomes, and career crystallization, but the evidence is mixed regarding the effects of internships on employability over the long-term and little research exists about the effects of internship experiences on wages. The literature also indicates the importance of internship characteristics such as job-site mentoring, autonomy, pay, and meaningful tasks on outcomes such as student satisfaction and job pursuit, yet few studies examine the relationship between these design characteristics and student outcomes. Furthermore, the practitioner or “grey” literature highlights the importance of careful planning, institutional support systems, coordination between academic programs and job-site mentors, a large “stable” of employers willing and able to host interns, and careful attention to legal and ethical issues. States and institutions hoping to scale up internship programs should ensure adequate staff, funding, and willing participants are in place before creating internship programs at scale. The field also needs rigorous mixed methods longitudinal studies that examine the impacts of specific internship characteristics on a variety of student outcomes.

Hora, M.T. & Blackburn-Cohen, C. (2017). Cultural capital at work: How cognitive and non-cognitive skills are taught, trained and rewarded in a Chinese technical college. Center for Research on College-Workforce Transitions Research Brief #1. University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Abstract: The employability of college students is one of postsecondary education’s most pressing concerns in the United States and China. In response, policymakers are focusing on developing students’ human capital, in the form of credentials and cognitive skills acquired in technical colleges, so that higher education becomes more aligned with workforce needs. In this exploratory study we use a cultural capital framework to examine how a group of technical college educators and employers in a large eastern Chinese city conceptualize skills, cultivate them via teaching and training, and utilize them when making hiring decisions. Findings include a shared view that both cognitive and non-cognitive skills are essential, a cultural predisposition to lecturing but also a growing use of active learning techniques, and the importance of “cultural fit” during the hiring process. The data are used to advance a new cultural framework for conceptualizing college student employability, which indicates that improving students’ prospects in the labor market requires integrating non-cognitive skills development in technical college classrooms, and advising students about the cultural underpinnings of the job search process.
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Seminar Reports

Center for Research on College-Workforce Transitions (2017). A report of the #LowerEd skills gap symposium: September 29, 2017. CCWT. University of Wisconsin-Madison

Policy Briefs

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Journal Articles

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Media Mentions

Wisconsin HOPE Lab closes doors, but research on college affordability continues

The Cap Times, Jul 19, 2018

'Internships' too vague to be requirement for graduation, study finds

The Daily Cardinal, October 16, 2017

What’s Wrong With Required Internships? Plenty

The Chronicle of Higher Education, March 4, 2018