The College Internship Study is a longitudinal, mixed-methods study underway at 14 colleges and universities in the U.S. that is generously supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the National Science Foundation (DGE#1920560, $1,489,273). The study institutions include several Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSIs), community colleges, and regional comprehensive Predominantly White Institutions (PWIs).
The aims of this study are to generate robust and fine-grained descriptions of internship program structure and student experiences, provide campus stakeholders with actionable evidence to guide continuous improvement of internship programs, and to amplify student voices and experiences about internships, with a focus on documenting and addressing obstacles to participation.
Empirical research on internships is essential as work-based learning is increasingly promoted across the higher education spectrum as a key predictor of student academic and career success. While a robust interdisciplinary literature on internships exists, few studies exist that document program design and student experiences at scale, especially with a mixed-methods approach. Further, research is needed that adopts a critical focus on the potential for internships to reproduce inequality by limiting these “high-impact” practices to those with ample and officially sanctioned forms of financial, cultural and social capital, and also a cultural focus on the ways that experiential learning can be designed to cultivate critical norms, skills and dispositions of a profession.
The guiding questions of this study include: (1) What are the demographic characteristics of students pursuing internships? (2) What are the structural features of internship programs (e.g., length, nature of tasks, supervisor quality), (3) What is the relationship between these structural features and student outcomes? and (4) What are the obstacles to internship participation and how can institutions address these barriers?
The methods used in the study include an online survey that contains validated scales on topics such as internship supervision and career adaptability, student focus groups and/or interviews, and interviews with campus stakeholders and area employers. Participating institutions are provided with customized data dashboards, technical reports of their data, and in-person presentations of study findings and recommendations for program improvement.
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The College Internship Study flyer PDF