Panel Paper: Impact of Work-Based-Learning on Women’s Participation and Completion in Community College STEM

Saturday, November 10, 2018
8209 - Lobby Level (Marriott Wardman Park)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Lois Joy, Jobs for the Future

Community colleges are the primary institutions charged with training youth and adults to fill sub- baccalaureate STEM positions. However, data on community college enrollment and attainment within STEM fields suggest that improvement is needed, especially for women and people of color who are woefully underrepresented in these fast-growing, high-paying fields. Research suggests that work-based- learning (WBL) defined for this research as an intensive (semester or yearlong) internship, cooperative, or practicum whereby the student earns STEM credit toward their credential or degree on the job, under the supervision of an employer has the potential to reduce attrition from community college STEM for all students but particularly those who lack social and cultural support for entering STEM fields. More specifically, by contextualizing learning and skill development within STEM-related employment experiences providing students with hands-on opportunities to learn about the STEM careers they are training for, and access to role models, mentors, broader workplace networks, and, in some cases, compensation WBL has the potential to improve perceptions of abilities and influence goals and expectations. This approach holds great promise for women, underrepresented minorities, and low- income and lower-skilled youth and adults, who all too often lack equitable access to high-quality WBL experiences that can serve as stepping-stones to increased economic opportunities. Yet, even though WBL in community colleges has grown in recent years and shows potential for reducing attrition in STEM and broadening participation, little is known about who participates in WBL; if there are differences in participation by gender and race/ethnicity, and if so, why; and the impacts on certificate and degree completion and post-graduation transition to STEM careers and further education.

In this paper, we present an extensive review of the literature on WBL in community college STEM with a focus on opportunities and barriers for women’s participation. Importantly, we explore what, if any, evidence based analysis have been conducted to articulate promising and best practices for the structure of WBL and what is known about impacts on STEM educational and career outcomes. We also describe our recently awarded National Science Foundation sponsored research on WBL in community college STEM. Drawing on rich and varied quantitative and qualitative data sources, our research will contribute significant new understanding about WBL in the community college STEM context, including: who participates in WBL in community college STEM (and why); variations in the structure and quality of WBL in community college STEM by program area and college; the potential for WBL to broaden participation in community college STEM; and its impacts on completion and postgraduate transitions to STEM careers and further STEM education. This study will also contribute to the field of career counseling research through our application of SCCT in this new context.