Research Update: Working Learners and Strategic Partnerships

By: Kurt Burkum, Senior Director, with support from Nycole Stawinoga

Since its beginning, the ACT Foundation focused on understanding the intersection of education, work, and the individuals who occupy both spaces simultaneously—working learners. ACT’s Center for Equity in Learning has continued to advocate for the success of working learners in the most recent quarter with the release of two new reports on working learners: “Who Does Work Work For: Understanding Equity in Working Learner College and Career Success” and “Equity in Working and Learning Among U.S. Adults: Are There Differences in Opportunities, Supports, and Returns?

Both reports, written for the Center by Sarah Blanchard Kyte, a senior researcher with the Education & Employment Research Center within the School of Management and Labor Relations at Rutgers University, expand on the breadth of existing research on working learners. “Who Does Work Work For” explores working and learning in college and suggests that working a more moderate number of hours (15 hours or less each week) may be a key strategy for students from low-income families trying to get through and get ahead in college.

The second report, “Equity in Working and Learning Among U.S. Adults” explores several important themes surrounding learning opportunities for adults in the workforce.  One of particular interest is that since the early 1970s workers without a bachelor’s degree consistently have had a bit more confidence in the U.S. education system than do those with bachelor’s degrees.  In addition, workers without a bachelor’s degree have also consistently maintained greater belief than bachelor’s degree holders that hard work is an important means to getting ahead.  Intriguing observations given that while a postsecondary degree is often required for entry into some work situations, it’s also often insufficient for continued progress and skill alignment over a person’s lifetime. This is consistent with the continual need by employers to provide additional workplace training and upskilling for workers to achieve long term business success.

Looking ahead, ACT’s Center for Equity in Learning will continue to focus on working learner research by developing additional resources including infographics and research briefs to highlight key points from the working learner reports.  It is our design that such tools and will be useful for education researchers, educators, policymakers, and advocates alike.

Additionally, we plan to release a brief on the Racial Heterogeneity Project report released in June.  Longer-term, we are creating exciting research partnerships this academic year to expand our understanding of areas such as student housing and food scarcity and school counseling.