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Hora, M.T., John Fischer, J., Jang-Tucci, K., & Song, H. (2024). An integrative review of the employability literature (2005-2020): How a simplistic and individualistic view of job acquisition inhibits theory, research, and practice in higher education. Center for Research on College-Workforce Transitions. University of Wisconsin–Madison, Division of Continuing Studies.

Abstract: The term “employability” (and its close cousin career readiness) is an idea that is playing an outsized role in shaping the future of global higher education in the early 21st century. In this paper the authors report findings from a critical, integrative review of the conceptual and empirical research on employability, where the primary aim was to evaluate whether recent scholarship has addressed long-standing critiques of the concept. These critiques include its tendency to be used as an ill-defined buzzword, an over-reliance on human capital theory, simplistic views on how people get jobs that over-emphasize skills and overlook structural forces, and ambiguous and/or evidence-free recommendations for campus practitioners. Thus, it is possible that a contested and poorly conceptualized and operationalized concept is driving a considerable amount of educational practice and policymaking in higher education – a hugely
problematic proposition.

The paper calls for scholars to reject the term “employability” in favor of “employment prospects,” as it underscores how job acquisition involves a complex array of both “supply” (e.g., individual student KSAs) and “demand” (e.g., labor market conditions, global pandemics) factors, and how an individuals’ prospects are not solely based on merit but are also shaped and constrained by the structural inequality. It also offers seven methodological questions that future scholars should consider when designing studies of graduates’ employment prospects: varying perspectives on causality, alternatives to human capital theory, methods for capturing multi-dimensional phenomena, the need to foreground student and worker voices and interests, how to engage in translational research, and considerations for framing research that does not solely position the purpose of higher education as a financial return on investment but also as an endeavor to benefit the common good.

Keywords: employability, higher education, career readiness, internships, skills, college-workforce transitions, labor market, workforce development, critical studies, multi-dimensional research.


Her, P.(2024). Radical Hope: Career Interventions for Underrepresented Students in Higher Education. Early Career Scholars Program. Center for Research on College-Workforce Transitions. University of Wisconsin–Madison, Division of Continuing Studies.

Abstract: The nature of work is in a constant state of flux, and this trend is expected to persist in the future (Allen et al., 2021). These changes affect workers by providing less job security, which significantly impacts their overall wellness (Allen et al., 2021). Therefore, higher education institutions should pay attention to their efforts as they prepare students, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds, for the workforce. This brief discusses the experiences of underrepresented students in higher education and proposes the use of radical hope as a career intervention to support students in their career exploration process. It includes examples of career interventions that employ a radical hope framework.

Keywords: Radical hope, career intervention, underrepresented students

Delgado, V. (2024). Supporting Immigrant-origin College Students’ Transition to the Workforce: Policy Recommendations for Postsecondary Institutions. Early Career Scholars Program. Center for Research on College-Workforce Transitions. University of Wisconsin–Madison, Division of Continuing Studies.

Overview: This research brief provides an overview of findings from research conducted with immigrant-origin Latino/a college graduates. The study sought to understand how the COVID-19 pandemic and immigration related factors shaped this group’s transition from college to the workforce. Longitudinal in-depth interviews were used to explore academic setbacks due to the COVID-19 pandemic, experiences with employment after college, and newfound family responsibilities once in the world of work.

Four findings emerged from the qualitative data. First, the pandemic ruptured postgraduation plans as young adults postponed their graduation dates and/or felt ill-equipped to enter the world of work. Second, young adults experienced prolonged periods of unemployment and often worked in positions unrelated to their field of study. Third, once an entry-level position was acquired, financial obligations to their households substantially increased. Lastly, undocumented young adults expressed fear and uncertainty about their futures as they worried about the termination of DACA. These findings provide insight into how the COVID-19 pandemic, economy, socioeconomic origins, and immigration policies complicate the integration of college educated immigrant-origin Latino/a young adults.

Keywords: Latino/a young adults, COVID-19, immigrants, children of immigrants, college, workforce

Chin, M. Y.(2023). Redefining Student Success: When College Students Choose to Leave. Early Career Scholars Program. Center for Research on College-Workforce Transitions. University of Wisconsin–Madison, Division of Continuing Studies.

Abstract: The financial value of higher education in the United States has been increasingly contested given college affordability concerns for students, and broader economic uncertainties, such as inflation (Levine, 2023; U.S. Federal Reserve, 2023). While research has demonstrated the benefits of a college degree, the public’s perception of its overall value has been waning (Schleifer et al., 2022). With respect to the benefits of college, national survey data from the U.S. Census between 1975 and 2015 showed that respondents with college degrees reported higher salaries, better health behaviors (e.g., exercise), and more civic engagement (e.g., volunteering) than those without (Ma et al., 2016). This brief provides overviews the types and contributions of college student transition programs towards student success in four-year institutions, in the context of dominant and critical theoretical frameworks on student retention and success. It further discusses the potential for institutions to structurally augment their support for students who are contemplating leaving college. Recommendations for policy, practice, and research are discussed.