Completed Projects

College Life During the Pandemic

In the Spring of 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted the lives of college students around the world with classes moved online, internships rescinded, and graduation ceremonies cancelled. Inequalities highlighted by the pandemic, in combination with continued police violence against Black communities, contributed to a wave of protests across the country. Such factors can have a dramatic influence on the educational goals, career plans, and values of college students. In this context, CCWT has launched this oral history project to amplify the voices of these students and to document their experiences adjusting to an unprecedented period in our nation’s history.

Read more about our project: Unprecedented Times: College Students Navigating 2020

Skilled Non-College Occupations

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 brief (PDF)full report (PDF))
Skilled Non-College Occupations in Wisconsin (in progress)
Skilled Non-College Occupations After the Great Recession (in progress)

Working Learners Study: UW-Parkside

The Center for Research on College-Workforce Transitions has recently begun a research project to understand the career development needs of working learners at UW-Parkside. In a recent survey of 2017-2018 UW-Parkside graduates, more than 40% of respondents reported working off-campus for pay for more than 30 hours per week. This figure is reflective of growing numbers of students across the country who are simultaneously managing schoolwork and significant work commitments. CCWT’s exploratory research study will examine the contexts and experiences of working learners in an effort to help institutions strategically support and promote positive postgraduate career outcomes for this critical student population. The research project team members include Matthew Hora (PI) and Jacklyn John Fischer, a doctoral student in the department of Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

The project is funded by the University of Wisconsin-Parkside.

Refugee experiences with higher education and careers 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. Read the research report on higher education for refugees in Wisconsin (PDF).

Refugee experiences with higher education and careers in Wisconsin one page brief (PDF).

Student-led Community-based Participatory Action Research

CCWT conducts qualitative Community-Based Participatory Action Research (CBPAR) projects with university students that focus on central issues in higher education. CBPAR is a partnership approach to research that typically involves engagement between academic researchers and community actors with the aim of gaining a more grounded understanding of a given phenomenon. While social science research has traditionally derived part of its authority from an opposition between the researcher and the researched, CBPAR complicates this paradigm by partnering academic researchers and community actors through shared, collaborative decision-making that positions community members as researchers rather than objects of the research. While CBPAR approaches have been used in a variety of social settings, including youth organizations, K-12 schools, and prisons, they have not often been used in university settings. We contend that CBPAR offers an exciting and needed approach to studying issues in higher education because it not only includes the perspectives and experiences of higher education students—those who are often excluded from policy debates—but it also positions students in a researcher role to guide the research questions, approaches, data collection, and analysis. This approach produces theory that is conceptually innovative as well as action-oriented, which can inform activism, pedagogy, policy debates, and policy implementation.

CBPAR Projects

CCWT researchers partnered with Students of Color at three universities to examine the sociocultural and institutional factors influencing the college experiences, educational success, and post-college transitions of Students of Color. This multi-sited study, funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, involved interviews and participant observations with current students, former students, and university staff to help analyze institutional context and climate.

The three student-led CBPAR research studies include:

CCWT also 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. Read more on the project here: Documenting the Aims of Higher Education Report (PDF)

Research Grants Program

The Research Grants Program of the Center for Research on College-Workforce Transitions (CCWT) is intended to support research projects with budgets up to $20,000 or less that focus on student experiences with the college-workforce transition process. Successful proposals will be consistent with the mission of CCWT, which is to support applied research that ultimately informs policies, programs and practices that promote academic and career success for all learners.

New Grants Explore How College Students Transition to Work
First Up, Latinx Parents and Anthropology Majors

Over the next two years, two research studies funded by the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Center for Research on College to Workforce Transitions (CCWT) will help reveal how two types of college students – Latinx parents attending community college and undergraduate anthropology majors – transition to work and life after college.

Read full article

CCWT Announces the Winners of the 2017-18 Research Grants Competition

Daniel Ginsberg
For: “Anthropology Undergraduates Plan for Life after College.”

In this project, we seek to understand how anthropology majors reconcile these competing narratives as they learn about the job market and position themselves within it. We will recruit a cohort of anthropology students to participate as undergraduate research fellows and train and support them as they conduct ethnographic research related to their peers’ preparations for life after college.
Daniel Ginsberg is Manager of Education, Research, and Professional Development at the American Anthropological Association.

Adrian H. Huerta & Cecilia Rios-Aguilar
For: “A Mixed‐Methods Study of Latinx Community College Student‐Parents and Their Work‐Force Considerations.”

Adrian H. Huerta, PhD and Cecilia Rios-Aguilar, PhD will conduct a mixed-methods study of Latinx student-parents in one Hispanic-Serving community college to understand how they use or don’t use college resources in preparing for the workforce and their transition into the labor market. Community colleges face multiple challenges in retaining and supporting their students, but it becomes more complicated in helping student-parents whose schedules, obligations, and commitments exceed the number of hours in the day.

Adrian H. Huerta is a Provost Postdoctoral Scholar in the Pullias Center for Higher Education situated in the Rossier School of Education at the University of Southern California. Cecilia Rios-Aguilar is Associate Professor of Education and Director of the Higher Education Research Institute in the Graduate School of Education and Information Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Grant Winners (PDF)

The EMPOWER Project

Exploring Multiple Postsecondary Opportunities through Workforce and Education Research, or the EMPOWER Project, was a 4-year, NSF-funded study. The purpose of the project was to document how faculty and workplace trainers thought about and taught/trained four critical 21st century competencies—communication, teamwork, problem-solving, and self-directed learning—and the socio-technical systems within colleges, universities and companies that shape teaching, training and learning.

Find more information about this project at

Tracking the Processes of Data-Driven Decision-Making in Higher Education

In seeking to enhance the efficacy of pedagogical reforms at the K-12 level, researchers and policymakers suggest that educators should utilize data-driven decision making (DDDM) systems, instead of making curricular and programmatic decisions based solely on anecdote or tradition. Yet the provision of data alone is not a panacea, as data must be robust, salient to local practice, and supported by adequate technical and administrative systems. The goals of this study are to (1) to identify whether or not formal systems exist for curricular decision-making in STEM departments, and if so, what types of data are used in these processes, (2) to collect data about instructor planning, classroom teaching, and student classroom experiences, (3) to prepare reports based on these data for departmental decision-makers to see if they enhance local systems.

For more information about this project, go to

Culture, Cognition and Evaluation of STEM Higher Education Reform (CCHER) Project

The Culture, Cognition and Evaluation of STEM Higher Education Reform (CCHER) Project (concluded in 2012) was a mixed-methods longitudinal study designed to examine and describe the factors that shape faculty teaching practices in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) disciplines. This is important because widespread investments in altering instruction in Institutions of Higher Education (IHE) from a singular reliance on traditional lecturing (i.e., the proverbial sage on the stage) to an inquiry-based approach grounded in the learning sciences have been slow to bear fruit. Research on reform implementation in K-12 schools, public health and the diffusion of innovations all point to the need to first develop a systematic understanding of how practice is situated within local contexts prior to attempting behavioral change interventions. Without such a nuanced understanding of teaching and its various determinants, singular and over-simplified explanations of the slow rate of change such as recalcitrant faculty or the lack of incentives do not provide change agents with adequate information for program design and implementation.

Learn more at