Work and Learn Programs Demonstrate Long-Lasting Effects

By: John H. Pryor, researcher, Pryor Education Insights LLC

Evidence has been mounting to show the positive outcomes for college students engaging in experiential education programs such as internships or co-ops. Such experiences have been designated “high-impact practices” based upon extensive research using the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE)[1] and one of the “big six” college experiences that lead toward higher levels of engagement in your job and wellbeing by the Gallup-Purdue Index[2]. Time and time again work and learn programs demonstrate powerful and long-lasting effects.

But, how well are colleges facilitating such experiences for their students? This was the focus of a survey that I conducted with the support of ACT’s Center for Equity in Learning: Characteristics of Experiential Learning Services at U.S. Colleges and Universities.

There are a number of take-aways from this study, and I encourage you to read the (short) report, but in this blog I want to focus on support for working learners, a topic the Center has explored previously.

While most administrators told us in the survey that they provided a number of services and programs to undergraduates seeking a work and learn experience, there was a general lack of assistance specifically targeting how to be successful managing both school and work. Only a third reported offering personal counseling on how to balance school and work. Only a quarter reported that their office had extended office hours to accommodate working students. There was little support in helping working students balance academic deadlines. A logical conclusion is that we need to provide more help to working learners if they are going to be successful in school and career.

Many Career Services staff want to provide this assistance, but do not have the resources to do so. They need additional staff to both run these programs and to ensure that students see such resources as useful and supportive of their success. Many survey respondents told us that it just was not an institutional priority to further support this work. We must work to change this.

The mismatch here is that trustees, presidents, and provosts want and need the outcomes of such programs. They need to demonstrate that their graduates are going to be successful in their careers and other aspects of their lives. One way to do that, we know from research, is to promote the connection between learning in the classroom and the world outside the classroom. If college leaders align their institutional missions with greater support and funding for students to engage in experiential learning, everyone wins.