Student perspectives on high impact practices such as internships are critical for researcher and higher education staff to better know how to support students learning, success, and career development. A research team from the Center for Research on College-Workforce Transition went to University of Baltimore and UW-Oshkosh in February and March, 2019 to conduct focus groups with students who have and who have not participated in internships by the second half of their college career. The focus groups provided rich narratives about barriers to internship participation, features of internship experiences, and student outcomes of those experiences.
The University of Baltimore (UB) is a public university located in Baltimore, Maryland. Student population is racially diverse that 56% are minorities, primarily African American. It is worth to mention that the University of Baltimore has a large number of nontraditional students who come back to school during their middle age. The age of UB students range from 18 to 67 with the median age approximately 28. In contrast, the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh (UWO) is a public institution as part of the University of Wisconsin System, white dominated (86%) with younger student population (97% under 24-year-old). Students’ successful school-to-work transition has been the heart of what both universities highlight. And providing internship opportunities have been a critical pathway for their students to gain work experiences and achieve positive post-graduation outcomes.
Forty-three students participated in our focus groups, with 24 of them from UB and 19 from UWO; and we tried to have a balance of the number of students with and without internship experiences. For the groups of students who had internship experiences, questions focused on internship program characteristics such as payment, work content, professional culture, their experiences with internship mentorship, relatedness with their academic program, etc., as well as questions asking the obstacles to having a successful internship and how their internships potentially benefit future career goals. In contrast, for groups of students who had not had an internship, we asked about their decision-making process and specific obstacles to their pursuing an internship opportunity.
These focus groups provide students’ narratives and shed lights on the ways in which internship programs are designed, implemented, and influential to individuals’ academic and career development. The data also helps us to understand the experiences of those who wanted to but could not start an internship. For example, the barriers to internship participation include financial concerns due to unpaid internships, lack of transportation, and the need of working full-time at current jobs. One student at the University of Baltimore explained, “I’m a fulltime worker. I work for the state of Maryland and I’ve just noticed that the internships presented are like maybe in the summertime, 40 hours a week, in which it just doesn’t fit with my fulltime schedule.” At UW-Oshkosh, which had more traditionally-aged college students, issues of unpaid or inadequately internships, travel expenses, and obtaining an internship relevant to their academic and career interests were commonly referenced as obstacles to internship participation and success.
All the focus groups data will be analyzed by a team of qualitative researchers as well as integrated with quantitative survey data. Stay tuned to this blog and to our CCWT research publications for the results of these analyses.