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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.

Liu, R., & Glave, C. (2023). The Alignment Between Internship, College Major, & Career Plan: Differential Experiences Across Gender, Race, & Major Groups. Center for Research on College-Workforce Transitions. University of Wisconsin–Madison, Division of Continuing Studies.

Abstract: This study proposes a novel tripartite alignment framework for internship studies to investigate alignment among student internship experiences, academic training in major programs, and career plans. Utilizing data from the College Internship Study, we examine demographic and programmatic factors associated with internship-major and internship-career alignment, and how these factors interact to affect overall internship satisfaction. While most students perceive their internships as relevant to their academic programs and career plans, a non-negligible group of students experience internship-major and internship-career misalignment, and the levels of misalignment vary across gender, race, major programs as well as their intersections. In particular, women engaged in paid internships report a lower level of internship-major alignment than women in unpaid internships, while this adverse effect is not found for men, indicating a potentially gendered trade-off between financial gains and academic training when making internship decisions. Moreover, while White students in health majors experience relatively higher internship-major alignment than business students, the same does not hold for Black and Latinx students, highlighting potential disparities in accessing quality internship programs in health sectors. Analyses further demonstrate that internship-major and internship-career alignment are positively associated with overall internship satisfaction. These findings provide preliminary insights into the tripartite internship-major-career alignment and its implications for students’ internship experiences, informing potential strategies for diversifying the workforce and enhancing school-to-work transitions. We discuss future research directions adopting this novel framework.

Keywords: Internship, horizontal match, career development, school-to-work transition

Jang-Tucci, K., Benbow, R. J., & Bañuelos, N., (2023). Using Multiple Generator Random Interpreters (MGRIs) for Studying Undergraduate Student Support Networks. Networks & Cultural Assets Project. Center for Research on College-Workforce Transitions. University of Wisconsin–Madison, Division of Continuing Studies.

Abstract: Researchers in higher education who study social support networks—groups of interpersonal relationships through which individuals exchange help, advice, and guidance (Wasserman & Faust, 1994)—widely use name generators and interpreters in surveys. “Name generators” are questions that elicit the names of people with whom survey respondents exchange information or discuss certain topics. After collecting these names, surveys often include “name interpreters” that ask respondents to provide information on the people who have been listed, including, for example, each person’s role in the respondent’s life, their education level, how close the respondent feels affectively to each person, etc. This research brief introduces the Multiple Generator Random Interpreter (MGRI; Marin & Hampton, 2007), a method for collecting personal or “ego” network data, as an alternative to traditional name generators and interpreters in social network research. Specifically, we focus on: (1) How MGRIs are different from Traditional Name Generators and Interpreters (TNGIs), and (2) What new insights can be yielded from using MGRIs when assessing college students’ support networks. We answer  with a review of social network literature, and then focus on  describing research methods and empirical evidence from two studies we have conducted of Latino/a/x/e (hereinafter “Latine”) college students in two U.S. states. We conclude with insights from our analyses and links to resources for implementing MGRIs in online surveys.

Bañuelos, N.,  Jang-Tucci, K., & Benbow, R. (2023). Forming Science Identity in Personal Networks: A Quantitative Study of Social Support for Latine STEM Students. Center for Research on College-Workforce Transitions. University of Wisconsin–Madison.

Abstract: Although Latine students and their families maintain high aspirations for their achievement in STEM (Science,Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics), they continue to face barriers to STEM degree completion and remain underrepresented in the STEM workforce. Social support systems are key to science identity formation and sense of belonging, two important predictors of persistence and attainment in STEM, particularly among historically marginalized students (Chemers et al., 2011; Strayhorn, 2012). For this reason, documenting Latine college students’ social networks – including their strengths, structure, and how they change over time– can help researchers understand trajectories in STEM.

Using the Community Cultural Wealth framework (CCW) – a theory focused on strengths within Communities of Color (Yosso, 2005) – this study examines survey responses from Latine STEM majors across the University of Texas System and measures important contours of Latine STEM students’ social networks, including (1) the features of these social networks, (2) the forms of CCW students possess in their social networks, and (3) the relationships that exist between students’ networks, science identity, and sense of belonging.

Hora, M., Lee, C. (2023). Cultural Scripts for Teaching Transferable Skills: Exploring the Role of Industry Experience and Pedagogical Situations on Skills-Focused Instruction in College Classrooms. Center for Research on College-Workforce Transitions. University of Wisconsin–Madison, Division of Continuing Studies.

Abstract: Why do postsecondary faculty teach the way they do, and what predicts their use of particular teaching methods and student engagement strategies in the classroom? Based on research over the last 40 years in both K-12 and postsecondary settings, consensus exists that no single predictor of instructional practice exists, but that a myriad of forces (e.g., individual, socio-cultural, and contextual) interact to shape how an instructor plans and teaches their classes (Shavelson & Stern, 1981; Lattuca & Stark, 2011; Posselt et al., 2020).

In this paper, we address this question by examining the potential role of a specific type of instructor attribute – that of prior experience in non-academic workplaces (hereafter called industry experience) – that is theorized to be associated with students’ acquisition of skills known variously as “soft,” “non-cognitive” or “transferable” (Deming, 2017; Pellegrino & Hilton, 2002). We address how culture is conceptualized in higher education in general, and in studies of faculty teaching in particular, especially the unit of analysis wherein cultural elements reside and then change (or not) over time (Välimaa, 1998). Following a brief exposition of the theoretical and empirical foundations of this approach, we then report findings from an exploratory mixed-methods study where these ideas were explored in the context of teaching in science, technology, engineering, mathematics and medical (STEMM) fields. We conclude the paper with an analysis of the implications of these data for faculty development, but also concerns that cultural scripts can encode ideologies and norms antithetical to a liberal, democratic, and equity-oriented education (Cronon, 1988; Harris & Patton, 2019; Urciuoli, 2008).