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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.


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

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).

Image of cover of report. Photo is of two workers in yellow hard hats inspecting machinery.
Research Report

Hora M.T., Thompson M., Jang-Tucci K., Pasqualone A., Akram-Turenne T., Wolfgram M., Lee C. (2023). What are the longitudinal impacts of a college internship (during a pandemic)? Findings from the College Internship Study on program participation, quality, equitable access, and student outcomes. Center for Research on College-Workforce Transitions. University of Wisconsin–Madison, Division of Continuing Studies.

Image of report cover. Photo is of students of various identities speaking with employers at an internship fair.
Executive Summary

Abstract: The College Internship Study wrapped up its third and final wave of data collection in the Spring of 2022. This report provides a summary of key findings from the longitudinal analyses across eight institutions that participated in the third and final wave of data collection. As an excerpt of the extensive dataset, this summary addresses the most pressing issues in college internship research and practice, as suggested in the Internship Scorecard (Hora et al., 2020). Developed for assessing the purpose, quality, and equity of internship programs, the Internship Scorecard provides a framework for this report to address three main issues of college internships: (a) access and barriers to internships, (b) internship program features and quality, and (c) effects of internships on post-graduate outcomes. Each of these issues are examined in this report, with special considerations for how the COVID-19 pandemic impacted student experiences in college, life, and work.

Hora, M., Chen, Z., Wolfgram, M., Zhang, J., & John Fischer, J. (2022). Designing effective internships: A mixed-methods exploration of the sociocultural aspects of intern satisfaction and development. Center for Research on College-Workforce Transitions.  University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Summary: Internships are widely promoted high-impact practices that can have positive impacts on students’ academic and post-graduate success, yet how specific features facilitate these outcomes is understudied. Instead, internships are often studied in terms of mere participation, without recognizing that these experiences are
complex pedagogic spaces shaped by professional cultures and decisions about instructional design. In this sequential mixed-methods study we use sociocultural learning theory to interpret data from online surveys (n=435) and focus groups (n=52) with students at five institutions. Stepwise linear regression analyses of demographic and programmatic variables associated with intern satisfaction, developmental value, and career adaptability indicated that first-generation status, gender, race and income level, and supervisor behaviors were significantly associated with satisfaction and development. Analyses of qualitative data revealed that features of positive (clear communication, availability, feedback) and negative (unavailability, inattention to learning) supervision impacted student experiences. These findings reveal that internships should be designed with careful attention to task scaffolding, student autonomy and supervisor assistance, depending on the professional context and situation. These results highlight the need for colleges and employers to design internships as mentored and culturally shaped learning spaces, provide supervisor training, and consider the cultural backgrounds of students when matching them to internships.

Hora, M., Jang-Tucci, K., & Zhang, J. (2022). Gatekeeping at work: A multi-dimensional analysis of student, institutional, and employer characteristics associated with unpaid internships. Center for Research on College-Workforce Transitions.  University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Summary: While internships are recognized as a high-impact practice, concerns persist about their legality and exclusionary nature. Prior research indicates that participation varies by key variables (e.g., gender, major), but empirical work is limited. We draw on multi-actor models of personnel transfer and intersectionality to analyze survey (n=1,153) data from 13 institutions, nine of which are MSIs. A linear probability model reveals that major, MSI status, and employer characteristics predict participation in unpaid internships, with pairwise comparisons indicating differences based on racial groups within MSIs.We conclude with a strategy for eliminating unpaid internships as part of transformative social justice work.

Wolfgram, M., Chen, Z., Rodríguez S., J., Ahrens, V., & Hora, M. (2022). Results from the one-year longitudinal follow-up analysis for the College Internship Study at Great Lakes Technical College. Center for Research on College-Workforce Transitions.  University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Summary: This report includes findings from the second round of data collection (Spring 2021, T2) at Great Lakes Technical College (GLTC). The data collected at T2 of the study include an online survey of 205 students and 18 students’ follow-up interviews who participated in the first round of data collection (Spring 2020 or T1). These data are analyzed to provide faculty, staff, and leadership at GLTC with evidence based insights about the impacts of internship participation on students’ lives and careers.

Hora, M.T., Colston, J., Chen, Z., & Pasqualone, A. (2021). National Survey of College Internships (NSCI) 2021 Report: Insights into the prevalence, quality, and equitable access to internships in higher education. Center for Research on College-Workforce Transitions. University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Summary: This report includes findings from the 17-campus pilot phase of the National Survey of College Internships (NSCI) project, which included survey responses from 12, 130 college students. Data include new insights on the prevalence of internship participation in these institutions (just 21.5%), intern demographics, the average distance traveled to an internship (315 miles), the quality of intern supervision, and the nature of obstacles preventing 67.3% of survey respondents from pursuing an internship.