Media Mentions

WCER’s Gloria Ladson-Billings discusses different schools’ responses to COVID-19

March 30, 2020   |   By Jeffrey S. Solochek

From Tampa Bay Times

Christina Ottersbach watches with a degree of disbelief as Florida embarks on its version of school closures during the coronavirus pandemic.

A special education teacher in Hernando County, she has concerns about how she will help her students, all of whom have individualized plans that might or might not work remotely. Her inability to get a steady internet signal at her rural home — made even more spotty by her middle school sons’ needs to get online for classes — only compounds her skepticism.

Add to that her limited family support system, personal anxiety and relative lack of training in distance teaching, and, well, it’s pretty clear. The veteran educator struggles to fathom how Florida’s plan to hold required, graded online education with a closure order that expires April 15 makes sense — especially in light of what other states are doing.

Michigan, where Ottersbach has friends teaching, ordered all its schools closed for three weeks and stated any distance learning that takes place during that time would not count toward required instructional time. Virginia closed its schools for the remainder of the academic year, and gave districts the option of providing additional teaching as long as they guarantee equitable opportunities for all students.

“Florida doesn’t seem to be in touch with reality,” said Ottersbach, who like many, preferred to just call off the current school year and pick up again when the pandemic has cooled. “They act almost like it’s not happening.”

Leaders in the state Department of Education don’t see it that way at all.

Commissioner Richard Corcoran said his team never gave a thought to shutting down the system for the remaining weeks of class.

“We’re following the CDC guidelines. We’re going to reevaluate it every 15 days,” said Corcoran, a lawyer and former House speaker was nominated for commissioner just over a year ago by Gov. Ron DeSantis.

If Florida were to see a significant “flattening of the curve” of the virus’ spread, he said, it could make sense to reopen schools in time to finish the academic year in actual classrooms. The next review is scheduled for April 15.

He hinted that a return isn’t out of the question, stating that Singapore didn’t send its students home, its leaders deciding the action would do more harm than good. Some people need to be isolated, and everyone should protect themselves, he said, but the rest of the population should be able to “go about living your life.”

Corcoran has agreed to call off all state testing for the year, along with all of the attached accountability measures. That way, he said, if and when in-person classes resume, teachers and students can spend their time on curriculum rather than worrying about assessments.

“They’ll be learning every day. That’s a great thing," he said, quickly adding that test-based accountability will return in normal times.

The state also has put out the word that the school year could be extended through June to get all the curriculum covered, though Corcoran had nothing but positives for the educators who ramped up a distance learning system that he deemed a “great solution to the predicament that we’ve found ourselves in.”

As for the Michigan model of shutting down school and not counting any of the work that students do until classes resume, that was a complete non-starter for the man making the call for Florida’s schools.

“That’s not who we are as Americans,” Corcoran said, suggesting such a move would sell students short and undervalue teachers. “What Michigan has done is throw up the white flag in surrender as no state should.”

Like Florida, Michigan closed schools for several weeks, and sought a federal waiver to call off required annual tests.

But unlike Florida, Michigan has a Democrat as governor. Its actions have taken a different tone than those who have looked for ways to stem the virus’ spread with something less than a full-blown shutdown.

Shortly after classrooms shut down, the Michigan Department of Education issued a memo that encouraged distance learning, but didn’t require it as Florida has. And it stated that the lessons would be for enrichment.

“There is no mechanism to earn instructional time during a period of mandated school closure," the department stated. “However, schools can and are encouraged to offer supplemental learning opportunities to students using distance learning methods as they see fit."

A spokesman for the department said officials there are “staying within the memos” rather than making additional comments. He noted that the situation remains fluid, and the state is changing its approach as needed.

The memos coming out of the Michigan agency stress the importance of access for everyone before any transition to full online instruction. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer did say she would take steps to ensure seniors graduate on time, and no child is held back because of the situation.

“We do not know what the future will hold, but we are absolutely committed to ensuring the needs of our students, parents, and families are met as we navigate these uncharted waters,” Whitmer said in a statement.

Virginia, which also has a Democratic governor but in a more “purple” state, went a different direction.

It closed all schools for the remainder of the academic year — an action similar to Kansas and Alabama — and then gave its districts options for how to provide students “with equitable opportunities and instruction covering required course content ... without disrupting their academic progress.”

That includes while classrooms are closed, over the summer or into the next school year.

Like Florida, Virginia waived some graduation requirements for high school seniors who were on track to a diploma. It canceled its spring exams, as well.

And in a move between Florida and Michigan, Virginia has encouraged individual districts — which the state calls divisions — to provide students with opportunities to keep learning.

“We are advising school divisions not to grade that work ... unless they are able to do that in a way that is equitable for all students,” Virginia Department of Education spokesman Charles Pyle said. “It has to include students with disabilities and English language learners. ... We want school divisions to keep students engaged, but we also want them to be mindful of their responsibility to serve all students.”

Virginia, as Florida, has a wide variety of communities from the small rural to the densely urban. So the state has tried not to prescribe a single approach for any one of them.

But one thing has become clear, Pyle said. Regardless of location, relative wealth, size or types of students served, none of the divisions appear able to provide the full equitable access that’s desired.

Three states, three approaches. Is any one of them more right than the other?

University of Wisconsin education professor Gloria Ladson-Billings, president of the National Academy of Education, is a strong advocate for accessibility and equity in education. She can speak at length about the challenges that poorer communities face just in annual summer learning loss, not to mention the disparities inherent between those families with technology and home stability vs. those without.

Her take on the entire situation: Who knows?

“I can see the arguments on both sides,” Ladson-Billings said.

Florida spent years investing in classroom technology, for instance, and might have enough equipment to bridge the divide by providing materials to families. Michigan might not have a similar ability. Both might change their efforts as they learn more, just as Philadelphia city schools did by at first declining to do any online distance instruction and then switching gears amid a community uproar, she said.

“We all know this is not the same as instruction in a classroom. I don’t think anybody is trying to make it that,” Ladson-Billings said. “What people are trying to do is ensure there are not learning losses.”

And truth be told, she said, no one really knows what will work in this new dynamic.

“That’s the most honest thing we can say,” she said. “We have never had anything like this before.”

She expressed hope that, as schools go about their business, they don’t lose track of the stress that isolation can cause, which could lead to potential child abuse.

“Some of our kids are going to be in some very difficult situations,” she said, as they no longer have the safe haven that school has provided up to now.


Working At Home With A Toddler Will Be Chaotic. Here Are Some Tips To Help.

March 27, 2020   |   By Elizabeth Dohms-Harter

From: Wisconsin Public Radio, By Elizabeth Dohms-Harter

Younger children have attention spans of 10 to 15 minutes when they're working on tasks, said assistant research professor GG Weisenfeld of the National Institute for Early Education Research at the Rutgers Graduate School of Education.

 

That probably comes as no surprise to parents with a seemingly impossible double-duty task of working from home and taking care of their little ones. In the new-world realities brought on by COVID-19, the disease spread from the new coronavirus known as SARS-CoV-2, early childhood specialist Lorena Mancilla urges parents and guardians to be kind to themselves while figuring out what works.

"Children need regulated, healthy parents more than anything else during this period of social distancing and shelter-in-place orders," she said. "Life happens. Schedules may not work. It’s okay. Do what you can to keep your children safe."

Weisenfeld said parents inherently are teachers. She said your behaviors set examples for your children who easily learn by doing ordinary things such as sharing a book, having a conversation or playing with bubbles in the kitchen sink.

"Take this opportunity to create and provide high-quality educational experiences at home for your children," she said.

A University of Wisconsin-Madison educator and family engagement researcher, Mancilla and her team of early years specialists at WIDA, and Weisenfeld offered the following tips for guardians, whether they're on the verge of burnout or looking for ways to spice up learning at home.

Create A Schedule

No, your toddlers aren't going to follow this without your guidance, and yes, you should still create one. Schedules are important because they help with consistency, and that's important for young children, the WIDA (World-class Instructional Design and Assessment) team said.

Some tips include building a schedule that keeps your child on similar meal and nap routines that they have at their child care facility. Also build in hands-on and child-led activities, making sure there are plenty of sensory activities for them such as making sill putty, edible glitter finger paint or digging for (spaghetti noodle) worms. Mancilla said this gives children a sense of agency.

Guardians can work with their children to make a visual chart of daily activities and responsibilities. It's important to do this with your child and ask them to check items off as they're completed. One example is to create a paper chain, with each link representing a daily activity. When the activity is done, the child can tear off the link. 

The same method can be used to reward a child with something they want after they remove all links that represent completion of certain activities or demonstration of certain behaviors.

Each morning review the day's plan with your child and use a visual cue to help you, for example a kid-friendly schedule that you keep posted on the refrigerator. Focus on anything special or different.

Gather Resources

The WIDA team recommends gathering resources that kids can use during unstructured activity time, for example playing in a bin of sand, uncooked rice or water. It's easier to do this on the porch or a hard surface for easier cleanup. Make sure to provide plenty of scoops and containers.

Gather drawing and coloring utensils and other items around your house that would be safe for kids, such as measuring cups, plastic bowls or other items you might see in their child care centers.

"You would be surprised at how engaged toddlers can be as they play with materials that have a variety of textures," Mancilla said.

Get Outside

Heeding social distancing measures, it's crucial to get your kids outside for play, the WIDA team said. While parks with playground equipment might be out of the question, you can still go for walks, play in your own yard or explore the neighborhood.

In Madison, someone designed a scavenger hunt at a local park. Country-wide, neighbors and teachers are putting rainbows, teddy bears and other items in windows that children can count as they walk past.

Create A Play Space

Along with your kids, create a separate spot in your home where they can play, but make sure that it's within your view. This might be a great opportunity to have kids build a fort using pillows and blankets.

They can fill this space with their favorite toys or materials. 

Another fun activity is to take some of your children's toys and sort them into different boxes, bags or bins. Then, each day, bring out a new batch. At the end of the day and with the child's help, put those items away in preparation for a new box the next day.

Be Interactive

Children learn by interacting with other people, so be willing to participate in interactive games, songs and reading time. These connections will be helpful to children whose normal routines have been disrupted.

Children can get this kind of connection from each other in a household or from a guardian. 

Weisenfeld said that another way to build connections is through video chats. They can use this time to sing a song together or share "dress-up" outfits. This could also be a time to have children connect virtually with family members who aren't present in the home. 

She said it's OK during this time to relax some house rules that are normally in place, but she said children tend to find consistency reassuring. If you do change rules, communicate that to your kids and keep those rules consistent.


Tips for families working and learning from home

March 23, 2020   |   By NBC15 News

From NBC15.com

For families with young children, University of Wisconsin-Madison educator and family engagement researcher Lorena Mancilla offers advice on how to create spaces and establish routines for learning and working effectively from home.

UW-Madison said in a press release Friday, with 40 U.S. states now closing public schools to slow the spread of COVID-19, parents have had little or no time to plan for keeping their children home 24/7. Suddenly, and in some cases overnight, families are figuring out how to live, learn and work - together and separately - all under one roof.

Many parents who haven't heard from their children's schools about alternatives to classroom instruction may be wondering if they also need to take on the role of an at-home substitute teacher.

Mancilla offers these tips for working and learning from home:

Set up separate spots in the home, as space permits, for children to learn and parents to work.
Keep the family's regular weekday schedule for waking up, bedtime and meals.
Gather resources for children to engage with, such as toys, games, books, online videos and drawing materials.
Schedule frequent breaks for kids and parents to move around, play and exercise.
Expect the unexpected.

Mancilla suggests starting slowly and setting daily goals. For example, select a one-hour learning activity for day one, followed by a two-hour activity on day two, and so on.

CLICK HERE for more suggestions and resource links.


Meet Your Immigrant Neighbor: Ruslana Westerland

March 9, 2020   |   By Leigh Mills, Ch. 15 NBC News at 4

Ch. 15 New at 4, March 9, 2020


Nicholas Hillman: How students and teachers approach college in ‘education deserts’

February 27, 2020   |   By Laura Edghill

From World

Sunshine Bible Academy Superintendent and Principal Jason Watson wishes his students had better access to college representatives. The private Christian school in Hand County, S.D., serves 75 students, nearly two-thirds of whom live on campus. The universities within a four- to five-hour driving distance are scattered in different directions, making tours impractical for many families.

“It’s not overly convenient for our students to go on college visits or to have reps from colleges visit us,” Watson said.

Sunshine Bible Academy is in what scholar Nicholas Hillman of the University of Wisconsin calls an “education desert.” The lack of nearby higher education options can put students at a disadvantage after high school. But I found some schools that are working to counteract those negatives to give students more options.

States like Idaho, Nevada, North Dakota, and South Dakota have magnificent sprawling landscapes, but that sprawl means colleges and universities are few and far between. Researchers with the Jain Family Institute recently analyzed the entire nation by ZIP code and plotted the concentration of community colleges and public and private universities on an interactive map. In Nevada, for example, unless students are near Reno or Las Vegas, they won’t find a community college for hundreds of miles.

College attendees in education deserts must deal with inflated prices at universities that have a monopoly in the region and with the increased prevalence of high-pressure recruiting for online for-profit colleges, according to the Jain researchers. That can affect whether students go to college at all, Hillman wrote in a 2016 report: “The [farther] a student lives from a college or university, the less likely he or she is to enroll.”

Schools like Sunshine Bible Academy and Dakota Christian School in Corsica, S.D., are trying to bridge the gap between rural education and college. The two schools estimated they send about half of their graduates to four-year colleges, while the other half might pursue an associate’s degree, technical certification, military service, or enter the workforce directly.

“I think we have a certain number that know exactly what they want to do, and they go to a tech school or go right into the workforce,” Dakota Christian School CEO Jeremy Boer said. “Then we have a few that kind of want to experience something new, so they move to Sioux Falls or something like that.”

Bismarck State College in neighboring North Dakota takes a flexible approach to reach a far-flung population of future students.

“Knowing that we are in a more rural area, we try to keep our classes as affordable and as accessible as possible,” said Karen Erickson, the school’s dean of enrollment. “So I think that helps a lot with attracting students because we have a lot of classes and programs that both can be completed online or on campus.”

Erickson pointed out that in his neck of the woods, distance is not always as much of a limiting factor as city folk might think.

“It’s not unheard of that somebody commutes 60 miles one way into work or for educational opportunities,” he said. “It’s something that people in the more rural states are very familiar with because driving 60 miles here, maybe at 75 to 80 miles an hour, might be only a 40-minute commute.”


Gloria Ladson-Billings announces new inductees to the National Academy of Education

February 27, 2020   |   By Annemarie Mountz

From Penn State News

Greg Kelly, senior associate dean for Research, Outreach, and Technology and distinguished professor in the College of Education, is one of 15 people nationwide to be elected to the National Academy of Education (NAEd) in 2020, and the first-ever member from Penn State. He will be formally inducted during the NAEd annual meeting in November. Election to membership in the academy is one of the highest honors accorded to educational researchers by their peers.

"This diverse group of scholars are at the forefront of those who are improving the lives of students in the United States and abroad through their outstanding contributions to education scholarship and research," said Gloria Ladson-Billings, president of NAEd, in making the announcement.

"It is certainly a great honor to be recognized by prominent colleagues from around the country," said Kelly. "I look forward to serving the National Academy and advancing the value of educational research."

Kelly’s research focuses on science and engineering education. His desire to increase access to and participation in these disciplines led him to study how to demystify science and engineering for students. Kelly’s focus on discourse and epistemic practices in K-12 education anticipated changes in research directions leading to current national reform efforts focused on scientific discourse and practices.

His research brings together the fields of sociology and anthropology of science with sociolinguistics to examine ways that teachers and students from elementary school to college frame disciplinary knowledge, negotiate uses of evidence and engage in inquiry practices. A number of his studies offer methodological innovations by considering how discourse processes and actions are situated in broader cultural and social practices.

Kelly has authored approximately 100 research articles and chapters including contributions to major international handbooks across a range of topics including inquiry, discourse, epistemology and learning, and epistemic cognition.

Kelly’s commitment to rendering knowledge and institutions accessible also relates to his leadership as senior associate dean, although in a more indirect way. He strives to improve access to knowledge by supporting his colleagues' research, building educational programs and using technology in effective ways for educational purposes.

"I believe the associate dean for research should lead by example, so I have worked hard to maintain a research agenda while serving the college in this capacity," Kelly said.

Kelly has indeed maintained his research productivity despite serving in leadership positions at Penn State for over half of his academic career. In addition to his roles as department head and associate dean, he has been dedicated to advancing knowledge through work in professional organizations and research journals. For example, he served as associate editor for the Journal of Research in Science Teaching, and for Science & Education; the Learning Section co-editor for Science Education; co-editor for the Review of Research in Education; and editor-in-chief of Science Education.

Kelly joined Penn State's College of Education as a full professor in 2004 and became head of the Department of Curriculum and Instruction in 2007. He was named associate dean for Research, Outreach and Technology in 2010, and was elevated to senior associate dean and distinguished professor in 2018.

In 2018, Kelly was honored with the Dr. John J. Gumperz Memorial Award for Distinguished Lifetime Scholarship by the American Educational Research Association (AERA). In that same year, he received the University Faculty Way Paver Award from the Council of College Multicultural Leadership at Penn State.

The NAEd advances high quality education research and its use in policy and practice. The academy consists of U.S. members and international associates who are elected on the basis of outstanding scholarship related to education. Nominations are submitted by individual academy members once a year for review and election by the organization’s membership. In addition to serving on expert study panels that address pressing issues in education, members are also deeply engaged in NAEd’s professional development programs.


Jerlando F.L. Jackson to deliver keynote address at statewide diversity conference

February 19, 2020

From NIU Today

Drawing more graduate students of color than ever before, an upcoming “Turning Fellows into Faculty” conference at NIU remains the only program of its kind in Illinois.

At least 70 Diversifying Faculty in Illinois (DFI) Fellowship recipients and other graduate students of color interested in the professoriate as a career path are expected at the fifth-annual statewide conference. The program will take place Friday-Saturday, Feb. 28-29 in the Holmes Student Center.

“I am elated with pride at how much this conference has evolved,” said conference coordinator Janice Hamlet, Ph.D., an associate professor in the Department of Communication and a senior faculty mentor in the Office of the Provost.

“This is geared toward DFI fellows interested in becoming tenure-track professors, to expose them to all the types of institutions and opportunities available to them,” she said.

The upcoming conference will include students from 15 different institutions throughout the state—an “all-time high,” Hamlet said.

Hamlet started the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences event in 2015 to increase diversity among the professoriate. The DFI program annually provides competitive fellowship awards to about 100 students of color in Illinois.

A proponent of the program, Hamlet saw the need to recruit, encourage and educate those fellows to become professors in Illinois to counter the lack of diversity prevalent in universities nationwide.

“We need to do a more intentional job of recruiting faculty of color, so this conference is a way to try to contribute to increasing diversity among the professoriate,” Hamlet said.

The first conference drew 18 DFI fellows, and the program has grown more successful every year.

This year’s event will include research posters and digital presentations by some of the DFI fellows on Friday, Feb. 28. A welcome dinner will feature former DFI fellow and NIU Assistant Professor Shondra Clay, Ph.D., of the College of Health and Human Sciences, with the keynote speech, “Never Settle, Go Further, Reach Higher: From DFI Fellow to Tenure-Track Professor.”

Following the dinner, the NIU Black Graduate Student Association will sponsor a social for the DFI fellows. 

The Saturday, Feb. 29, workshop sessions, hosted by NIU faculty and higher education leaders from throughout the state, will include information on job market trends, the diversity of academic institutions, positioning yourself as a scholar in your discipline, creating and maintaining a hassle-free curriculum vitae, faculty roles and responsibilities, mentoring, establishing an online presence and preparing for interviews.

Other sessions will focus on “Negotiating Race, Gender, Sexuality in the Academy,” “Combating Cultural Taxation in Higher Education,” “Dr. Mom: The Challenges and Triumphs of Juggling Both Worlds,” and “Invisible Labor by Faculty of Color: Another Part of the Cultural Tax.”

Jerlando F.L. Jackson, Ph.D., from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, will present the Saturday, Feb. 29, keynote address, “Planning for Success: Being Strategic about the Promotion and Tenure Process.”

“Although we’re trying to promote the professoriate, we don’t paint a rosy picture for them,” Hamlet said.

“We let them know, as faculty of color, they’ll have challenges. For example, believe it or not, in this day and age, they will have students in their classes who will be surprised to see them there as professors. They may even have colleagues who are not as welcoming as they should be. Because of this conference, these prospective professors won’t be shocked by these challenges but will be prepared and committed to not only surviving but making a positive difference in academia.”


Op-Ed: Sacramento’s army of interns deserves to be paid

February 19, 2020   |   By Victoria Pfau

From the Los Angeles Times

There are interns in almost every office at the Capitol in Sacramento, and very few of them are paid. They answer phones, write press releases, research legislation and track constituent requests. The privilege of gaining experience — and an advantage in their later job hunt — will cost most of them hundreds, even thousands of dollars in living expenses and lost wages from the paying jobs they forgo. Work experience when you’re starting out is theoretically more valuable than a paycheck, but that doesn’t make it any easier to pay rent, student fees or your lunch tab.

In 2019, California passed landmark legislation protecting workers’ rights by expanding collective bargaining and addressing worker misclassification and workplace harassment. Yet the unpaid interns that keep Sacramento lawmakers’ offices running are proof that state government’s commitment to labor rights comes up short inside its very own walls.

No state agency tracks internships, paid or unpaid. Some universities and nonprofits sponsor paid public-service internships; assembly members and senators may, on their own, pay interns as well. But most of this work, especially at the district office level, is unpaid; some internships don’t even include academic credit.

Last summer, I was an intern in the district office of a state senator. I was thrilled to be offered the opportunity, but there was one problem: It was unpaid. Taking the position limited the hours I could work at my part-time summer job. Like many college students, I work in the summer to help pay for tuition and living expenses. As a public policy major, I felt like I had no choice but to take the hit. I knew that without the experience, I would jeopardize my chances of landing a job in my field after graduation.

I spent hundreds of dollars just on gas to get from my home to the district office. I was fortunate that I could live with my family and my living expenses were minimal. For those who move to Sacramento for an unpaid internship, the cost-benefit calculation is likely to be much rougher. Imagine being accepted for a prized position but ultimately turning it down because you can’t afford to work 10-30 hours for free.

Matthew T. Hora, a professor and director of the Center for Research on College-Work Transitions at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, surveyed students at five colleges and universities about why they chose not to intern as undergraduates. Nearly two-thirds of the respondents cited cost barriers related to tuition and living expenses. Their quandary could prove a big long-term disadvantage. The B.A. Rudolph Foundation found that only 17% of college students have a job offer at graduation; however, among those with internship experience, 51.7% graduate into work.

All the statistics add up to an advantage for those who already have an economic leg up. Intern Bridge, Inc. — a for-profit firm that researches internships nationally and helps companies and schools set up programs — found that students from families whose household income was more than $120,000 are more likely to be unpaid interns than students coming from families who make $80,000 or less. I observed this dynamic at the state senator’s district office. Some of my intern peers didn’t have to juggle part-time summer jobs. Not surprisingly, Intern Bridge also found that nearly 70% of white students but only 53% of Latinos participate in internships, with African Americans at 59.5% and Asian Americans at 63.2%.

In 2018, the advocacy group Pay Our Interns convinced Congress to pass legislation that created a fund to pay House and Senate interns. Until then, in Wshington, as in Sacramento, paid internships were rare, a constant casualty of budget cuts.

Now the House allots $25,000 to each member’s office for internships; the figure for senators is based on the population of their states. In the first year of the program, the maximum stipend for House interns in Washington was only $1,800 a month; the Senate, when it pays, is more generous. It’s a start.

Pay Our Interns is researching internship programs in state legislatures. We know a few states have robust programs: Arizona, Indiana, New York and Maryland. There is every reason for California to join them. Setting aside money, by law, to pay stipends to interns is a worthy investment in the next generation of leaders. And it’s only right to make it possible for all students, no matter their family income, to take advantage of such an opportunity.

Victoria Pfau is a junior at UCLA and chairs the Student Advisory Committee for the Pay Our Interns California Action Fund. She earned her associate degree at Los Angeles Mission College. Victoria@payourinternsaction.org


Wisconsin ACT scores reveal glaring disparities, DPI, UW work to address

February 18, 2020   |   By Erin Gretzinger

From The Badger Herald

As a new analysis captures persisting disparities in Wisconsin’s ACT scores for college readiness, state officials and researchers work to understand and combat issues within the educational achievement gap.

In a recent analysis conducted by the Wisconsin Policy Forum on Wisconsin ACT data from the past few years, researchers found “areas of concern” with declining and stagnant college readiness scores of high school juniors.

While the study noted Wisconsin is doing relatively better compared to other states, the WPF said Wisconsin’s decreasing working-age population and rising demand for occupations requiring higher education pose a threat to the state’s economic climate. Another cause for concern — the glaring socioeconomic and racial disparities present in ACT data.

“It’s important to note Wisconsin high schoolers still fare better on their overall ACT scores than nearly all other states that require all students to take the test,” the WPF study stated. “But within those statewide scores are gaping disparities, particularly on the basis of race, that demand urgent attention.”

Wisconsin has fourth largest decline in higher education funding for UW System, state technical collegesA recent report highlighted the state of Wisconsin as having the fourth largest decline in higher education funding in the Read…

While the state’s overall ACT dropped slightly from 2018 to 2019, the WPF’s analysis said the decline in levels of college readiness for math, english and science are of greater concern. These benchmark levels serve as indicators for how students will fare in college courses.

The gaps in the college readiness benchmarks are most prominent among racial lines, especially in english, where there was over a 43% gap between white students with 57% at the benchmark level compared to only 13.3% of Black students. Similar trends were found between economically disadvantaged students and other racial minorities across other subject areas.

“Few policy challenges are more critical to Wisconsin’s economic health than meeting the growing demand for college-educated workers,” the WPF stated. “At the same time, few policy solutions are as obvious as the need to boost the pipeline of high school graduates from within the state, particularly among minority and economically disadvantaged populations.”

University of Wisconsin Professor of Sociology and Educational Policy Studies Eric Grodsky said many of the inequalities in secondary and higher education can be contributed to shortcomings that take place early in the education route.

Grodsky said students are screened for literacy knowledge and skills when they come into kindergarten, and these results reveal earlier trends of disparate educational impacts, creating the gaps that grow into the high school and college years. Another significant factor is connected to Wisconsin’s disproportionate poverty rates among African Americans and other minority students, according to Grodsky.

“Wisconsin is also home to some of the biggest disparities in child poverty by race, ethnicity and median family income,” Grodsky said. “A lot going on outside the schools sets the stage for what we see inside the schools.”

Grodsky said these early educational experiences shape students’ levels of preparation for higher education, leaving African American students at a disadvantage to their non-Hispanic white peers.

Grodsky said higher education institutions play a large role in closing these gaps by reaching out to minority students. At UW, Grodsky said the admissions’ comprehensive review of applicants’ files gives students who have experienced disadvantageous situations in their education the chance to level the playing field.

“It entails looking at test scores and grades, but also looking at the totality of students, opportunities and circumstances around those test scores and grades,” Grodsky said. “I think that enables places like Madison and many others to be more nimble in trying to extend opportunities to students who may not have fared as well in primary or secondary school.”

Secretary Deputy of the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction Mike Thompson said while Wisconsin ranks nationally, the stagnant scores and lack of improvement are cause for concern.

Thompson said the DPI is working to address the readiness gaps among minority students with key programs in early education and beyond to encourage equity at all stages of education.

“Quite frankly, our whole effort here is around equity, which means you give kids what they need, when they need it in order to achieve,” Thompson said. “We have a lot of kids that come to school … that face a lot of challenges, and schools are trying to meet those particular challenges kids face.”

Thompson said the DPI is working on raising awareness at the local level in school districts to address different needs of students in early education. For students coming into the school system behind their peers, Thompson said providing the resources they need in the vital time between kindergarten and second grade proves pivotal in making a difference.

The programs the DPI is implementing include english efficiency programs, additional training for early education teachers and after school programs to extend learning opportunities outside the classroom. Thompson said another core aspect of programming is identifying outside factors influencing students’ performance.

“Another huge area that we’re focusing on is additional resources for school districts to meet some of the other challenges that impede kids’ learning, such as trauma that they have come to school with,” Thompson said. “We know that a large number of kids, because of those particular issues, can’t really concentrate on learning and the learning environment.”

Thompson said other options include diversifying the workforce to provide role models, developing programs fostering soft skills and independence, and “early alarm” systems to identify struggling students. Additionally, Grodsky said focusing on financing higher education for lower-income students is another huge piece of the puzzle to leveling the playing field.

Grodsky is working on research with the DPI, looking at application patterns to institutions of higher education. While there are no clear cut solutions, Grodsky said educational reform holds a lot of promise to close gaps across the spectrum of disparities in Wisconsin.

“Minority student or not, education is key. And higher education is playing an important role in providing economic opportunities to young people entering the workforce,” Grodsky said. “A stepping stone to success in the graduate and professional fields is success in college.”


Internships can ease the path from college to career — but they often don’t.

February 12, 2020

From The Chronicle of Higher Education

It’s becoming increasingly clear how critical internships are in landing a job after college and accelerating one’s career. So I was very interested when I learned that Matthew Hora, a researcher at the University of Wisconsin at Madison who studies the path from college to career, had turned his attention to internships because I knew he would challenge some common assumptions.

Hora’s expertise and background is unusual for a person in this field: While economists usually dominate the discussion about the world of work, Hora is an anthropologist. His qualitative approach attempts to shed light on the messy process by which companies hire talent and people seek out work.

For example, his book, Beyond the Skills Gap: Preparing College Students for Life and Work, poked at the common assumption about why American companies (and especially Wisconsin companies) are dealing with a skills mismatch or a skills shortage — that they can’t find workers with the necessary training to fill positions, particularly in manufacturing, the trades, and various “middle skills” jobs. (You know the refrain: “Who needs all these highfalutin college grads when we need welders!”)

Hora unpacks that assumption to show that the “skills gap” might actually be a result of broader trends in the job market and peculiar biases at companies. A workplace is a culture, Hora notes, and employers often look for people who will fit into that culture, regardless of their technical skills. Maybe companies are looking for “purple squirrels” — candidates who are impossibly perfect for the position, who need no training. Maybe employers are looking for hard-working kids from Wisconsin farms, not the city kids from Milwaukee — preferences that signal some possible racial bias. Maybe the problem is less of a skills gap and more of a wage gap — Wisconsin companies are just not offering as much as employers in Chicago or Houston.

Lately, though, Hora and researchers at his Center for Research on College to Workforce Transitions have turned their attention to internships. Their importance to the college-to-career pipeline is well known. Hora points out that studies indicate that applicants are more likely to get a call back from prospective employers if an internship is listed on the resume, and students who had an internship in college were more likely to be employed and getting paid more five years after graduation, compared with students who didn’t have an internship. (Hora cites some statistics in an article this month in Fast Company, and his center has reviewed the research on internships.)

But Hora argues that internships can counterbalance, reflect, or drive larger inequities. Part of that gap in earnings, for example, might be explained by the fact that employers are increasingly using the internship as a kind of test run for future employees. In some ways, Hora told me during a recent visit in Madison, you can’t blame them. “Hiring is difficult, it takes a long time, it's expensive, and you don't always make good choices,” he said. “I get the rationale. It's just there's issues and problems with that that aren't talked about enough.”

Much of the discussion about internships centers on pay and exploitation. But which students find out about internships in the first place? What resources do you need to do one?

For starters, many internships are not widely advertised, Hora says, so you have to be something of an insider to find one. Right away, that narrows the pool.

But even well-advertised positions can be out of reach for a lot of students. “It’s very uncommon for a student to say that there is only one obstacle they’re facing in accessing an internship,” Hora says. “It's often a combination of things.” According to his research, many students work to pay for college and support families while in school, and few can quit a full-time position to land a part-time or temporary one. Many internships require transportation, and nearly 20 percent of the students who had not landed an internship in Hora’s study said the lack of a car was a barrier. And internship opportunities are often clearest for students majoring in business, engineering, nursing, or other fields with direct paths into work; for students majoring in social sciences, arts, and humanities, finding internships can be difficult.

These factors disproportionately affect first-generation students, Hora says, which means that “the whole reproduction-of-privilege thing is highly problematic.”

Within colleges themselves, Hora notes, the organization and approach to internships is starting to cause tensions. Some colleges are seeking to centralize internship efforts, but individual departments worry that trend will interfere with relationships they have with employers. And while college administrators are starting to push internship requirements, given the demand from parents and students, Hora often hears career-services counselors complain that institutions aren’t providing the resources needed to set students up with those opportunities.

Colleges and employers can start to address these issues by being more intentional about how internships are set up and supported. Internships should not be considered a one-size-fits-all solution for giving students work experience, he says. Students should have more of a role in designing internship opportunities, to address some of the barriers above.

While students should offer input on internships, colleges also need to guide students on how to engage an employer in an internship. Students are aware that an internship is an important thing to list on a resume, but if they approach it as they might approach a required course — as an obligation or mere hoop they have to jump through — they could end up squandering the experience. This is particularly true when it comes to cultivating so-called soft skills, says Hora. There is a widespread assumption that internships naturally confer soft skills, but Hora is skeptical, given how difficult it is to teach those skills. Internships need a “deliberate focus” on those attributes.

Clearly, given the limited number of internships and the challenges in landing them, students need other kinds of real-world learning and work experience. Microinternships — with shorter durations and fewer work demands — could be one way to provide opportunities to more students.

But there might be solutions in well-worn practices at colleges. In Australia, Hora says, colleges are starting to shift toward work-integrated learning, like problem-based learning courses, undergraduate research, and other techniques that colleges have been doing for decades.

“It's not just repackaging them,” he says. “It's kind of recognizing that those opportunities that are linked to authentic problems from a nonacademic professional setting, if done well, can be just as good as an internship.”


Entry-level workers can lose 6% of their wages if they don’t have this

February 1, 2020   |   By Matthew T. Hora

From: Fast Company

When her college started requiring students to complete an internship in order to graduate, it created a serious dilemma for Janelle.

“I wouldn’t be able to do classes, do the internship, and work to make money—which is kind of important because I’m basically just paying for school as I can,” Janelle said in an interview for a study of internships during her junior year in South Carolina.

Janelle is by no means alone. Of the 1,060 students at five colleges and universities who answered “no” to having taken an internship for our University of Wisconsin at Madison-based College Internship Study survey, 676—or 64%—stated that they had actually hoped to take an internship but could not. The schools were located in Maryland, South Carolina, and Wisconsin.

The inability to take internships is a problem because internships serve as an important signal that students are ready to enter the workforce. In a recent study, students who listed an internship on their résumé received 14% more offers for an interview than those who did not. And evidence is growing that internships also lead to lower rates of unemployment after graduation, higher wages, and even better grades than students who don’t have an internship. More specifically, students who had an internship have 15% lower unemployment, 6% higher wages five years after graduation, and final-year grades that are 3.4% higher than those who did not have an internship.

These impacts on students’ academic success and career prospects are one of the main reasons that internships are being promoted as a “high-impact” practice that colleges and universities should encourage all students to pursue. But our data indicate that such advocacy is problematic. What we found is that access to internships—at least the ones that are unpaid or that pay very little—favor wealthy students who can more easily forego a paycheck in order to get the valuable experience.

We found five significant obstacles that make it difficult for some students to take an internship.

1. THE NEED TO WORK PAID JOBS

The most commonly reported obstacle that prevented students from taking an internship was the simple fact that they had to continue to work their full- or part-time job. Sixty percent, or 405, of the students who wanted to take an internship but could not cited this obstacle.

Among all college students, 43% percent of full-time and 81% of part-time undergraduate students work. These jobs help to pay for the constantly rising cost of tuition, as well as groceries, housing, and transportation. And for the growing numbers of older students who support relatives and have bills to pay, it is simply not practical to quit a well-paying and secure job for a short-term internship that would probably pay less.

2. TOO MANY CLASSES

Fifty-six percent—or 376 students—among those who told us they couldn’t work an internship cited a demanding course load as the reason why. This was especially true for students majoring in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) disciplines, where courses require laboratory time and lots of homework.

A demanding course load was most frequently reported by full-time students and those who work part-time. Considering that 71% of college students who work part-time jobs actually put in 20 hours or more, time is still scarce for these students. As one student noted, such a life leads to “back-to-back-to-back scheduling” with little time for self-care, much less an internship.

3. OPPORTUNITIES MAY BE SCARCE

Students from the social sciences, arts, and humanities frequently reported having difficulties locating an internship, much less one that was paid. With research indicating that students in arts and creative disciplines have fewer paid internship opportunities, many students in these fields face the dual obstacle of too few openings and the lack of a decent paycheck.

For the 45%, or 301 students, in our study who did not take internships, the lack of internship opportunities in their field or even their place of residence was a major obstacle. But it would be a mistake to think that the challenges of finding an internship were limited to the art history and English majors. One student in a physics and applied math program in Wisconsin explained that he had not taken an internship simply because “There aren’t any here offered for me in my field.”

4. UNPAID OR POORLY PAID INTERNSHIPS

Thirty-three percent, or 224 of the students who could not take internships, cited the lack of pay as the reason why. As Janelle stated, “My biggest struggle is most of them are unpaid—I am 26, getting married in a year, trying to do adult things, and not getting paid for several months is just not something I can afford to do right now.” Quite simply, working for free or for a low wage is simply not feasible for many college students.

On top of coming with low or no pay, many internships—particularly those in finance, government, arts, and media, or political science—are located in expensive cities that require relocation, big rents, and high daily living expenses. While national data on the prevalence of unpaid internships are not available, 34% of the student interns in our study worked without a paycheck. Besides the lack of pay being a deal breaker for many students, the evidence also indicates that unpaid internships are negatively correlated with students’ future wages and employment outcomes, which highlights the problematic nature of unpaid work for college students.

5. LACK OF TRANSPORTATION

Transportation was an obstacle for 19% or 129 of the noninterns in our study. For these students, not having a car effectively limited their options to on-campus internships or those accessible by public transportation.

When thinking about these obstacles, it’s important to keep in mind that some students face two or more of these intersecting obstacles at once. This, in turn, leaves students from wealthy, well-connected, and privileged families in a better position when it comes to securing internships that could be a critical link to their first job.

As Darren Walker, the president of the Ford Foundation, stated in an op-ed about America’s “internship-industrial complex,” the current state of affairs cannot last, because too “many promising young people with limited means are denied the chance to rise as high as their talent will take them.” This is why in the College Internship Study we are also documenting promising strategies that our partner institutions are pursuing to make internships more accessible for all college students, such as course-embedded projects, undergraduate research, and even micro-internships, that provide students with short-term projects that employers need completed but also introduce them to the world of precarious “gig” labor.

Until colleges and universities devote more resources to creating support systems for students struggling with these obstacles, the realities of working another shift, demanding coursework, and the lack of a car will keep too many students from “opening the door of opportunity” that an internship represents.

Matthew T. Hora is an assistant professor of adult and higher education and director of the Center for Research on College-Workforce Transitions, University of Wisconsin-Madison.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license.


African Americans Take on More Education Debt—And the Payoff Is Complicated

January 28, 2020   |   By Jaymes Pyne and Eric Grodsky

From The National Interest

When seeking graduate and professional degrees, African Americans take on over 50% more debt than white students. On the upside, African Americans also see a bigger payoff to earning such degrees. Whether or not that payoff is enough to make up for the additional debt burden is unclear.

These are some key takeaways from a study we released in January 2020 in the journal Sociology of Education that examined graduate school debt. We are researchers who study issues of inequality and disadvantage in education. Our findings come at a time when there is an ongoing public debate about whether higher education is worth the cost. We believe these debates represent a paradox for African Americans who are seeking education beyond a bachelor’s degree.

On the one hand, graduate school enables African Americans to climb into higher income brackets. But this upward economic mobility comes at a steep upfront financial cost.

Large differences found

For 2016, we estimate that the average white graduate student borrowed about US$28,000 while an average African American graduate student took out $43,000 to pay for their education, even when they had comparable levels of parent income, education and other resources important for educational attainment.

We found that African American graduates with an advanced degree had higher pay increases than their white peers – but not necessarily higher pay.

While a 2016 master’s degree graduate who is white could expect an 18% bump in earnings for their degree, African American master’s degree graduates could expect around a 30% bump in earnings compared to having a bachelor’s degree alone, according to our study. Among doctoral degree holders, white graduates could expect around a 55% bump compared to a 65% increase in earnings for African Americans with doctoral degrees.

Among those with professional degrees – needed to become, say, an eye doctor or a lawyer – white graduates earned 120% more than their bachelor’s degree counterparts who were also white. By comparison, African American graduates earned 142% more than those with a bachelor’s degree who are African American.

It may be tempting to conclude that African American students should aim for an advanced degree. But the reality is more complicated than that. That extra bump African American advanced degree earners get simply puts their pay close to that of their white peers with the same degree. African American advanced degree holders are not typically making more than their white peers, even though they borrow much more to earn those degrees.

Let’s take the case of average white and African American advance degree graduates with identical incomes and identical monthly student loan payment amounts of $300. Given a constant 6% interest rate compounded monthly, it would take the average white student just over 10 years to pay off the principal and interest of their $28,000 in student loans. By contrast, it would take the average African American student 21 years to pay off the principal and interest of their $43,000 in student loans with the same $300 rate.

For these reasons, taking on large amounts of student debt may perpetuate racial inequalities across generations. For instance, debt can make it more difficult for highly educated African American parents to support their own children’s educational aspirations. If a person who has a child right after graduate school invested $300 per month to their child’s college fund versus paying off their own student debt, with a 4% rate of return they could expect to have roughly $44,000 toward their child’s college education in 10 years.

The bigger picture

With student debt nearing $1.6 trillion dollars nationally, people worry that student debt is the next financial bubble that could topple the U.S. economy. They also worry that student loans may be financially crushing an entire generation.

But our research suggests that when it comes to the nation’s $1.6 trillion student debt problem, it pays to look beyond just student loans for four-year degrees. We found that nearly half the nation’s student debt is held by households where at least one member has an advanced degree. These are households that typically enjoy relatively high incomes.

For that reason, any talk about student loan debt should take into account the debt held not just by people with four-year degrees. If disparities in student loan debt are going to be addressed, they must be addressed among people who hold graduate degrees, too.


Dramatic fallout: Telling the story of a play labeled ‘Indecent’

January 26, 2020   |   By Gena Kittner

From Wisconsin State Journal | Madison.com

If the provocative name doesn’t pique your interest, the multi-layered complexity of the story should pull you in to Music Theatre of Madison’s upcoming show, “Indecent.”
The play, opening later this month, is a show within a show, telling a story that spans nearly four decades.
 
In a very complex nutshell, it’s a musical/play about a play called “God of Vengeance” written in 1907 in Poland. In “God of Vengeance,” the main character, Yekel, is a Jewish brothel owner who later learns his daughter has fallen in love with one of his prostitutes. The story of “Indecent” tells how the play “God of Vengeance” was performed with success in Europe, but faced challenges when the troupe comes to perform it in America.
Meghan Randolph, the show’s director, describes “Indecent” as a kind of historical fiction.
 
“The play ‘God of Vengeance’ actually happened and played to great success all over Europe,” she said. It was translated into English and brought to Broadway, but made some changes to where the love affair between the two women seemed more about sex than love, she said. The play shut down after a few weeks and all of the actors were brought up on obscenity charges, she said.
 
The Madison production has seven actors along with three musicians, who play on stage with the cast throughout the performance.
 
If the play alone sounds like complex storytelling, throw in that some of the story is performed in Yiddish and German.
 
Language teachers
While 90 percent of the show is in English, Yiddish and German are both spoken and sung in the play and experts were used to help the actors learn the languages. The (German and Yiddish) languages are very similar, but certain words are pronounced differently in each language, actor Micah Cowsik-Herstand explains. “We had to make sure we keep those two things honest.”
“The play is trying to do justice to the story of the real people who lived it,” said Cowsik-Herstand, who lives in New York City, but grew up in Madison and decided to spend about six weeks in town when he was cast as Lemml.
Lemml is both the stage manager of the play within the play, but also functions as a narrator, Cowsik-Herstand said.
 
And while all the other actors play multiple roles, Lemml “is the one character in the show that doesn’t change,” he said, adding the play starts in 1906 when Lemml is 18 years old and continues until 1952.
Cowsik-Herstand said he’s heard “Indecent” described as a type of ghost story, where the characters have this unfinished business and “they want people still alive to value what they value.”
It was performed off Broadway in 2015 and on Broadway in 2017 where it was nominated for three Tony Awards and won for “Best Direction of a Play.”
 
After seeing the show on Broadway, “I walked away from it feeling … this deep responsibility to recognize the culture I came from and what I’m going to pass on to the next generation. I really hope to do justice to that in this show,” Cowsik-Herstand said.
 
And, he said, that’s a concept that anyone watching the show can relate to.
 
Whatever culture people come from, they can think about what they’ve learned from their ancestors and what’s important to pass on, he said.
 
“It deeply respects tradition, but is also deeply progressive,” Cowsik-Herstand said of “Indecent.”
 
Meaningful roles
At least three of the actors in “Indecent” are Jewish themselves, leading to even more meaningful roles.
Lizzie Cutrupi is a Chicago-based actress who plays multiple female roles in “Indecent.” Cutrupi said she’s done a lot of research to be able to do the five different characters she plays as “I’ve never really done a role quite like this.”
Cutrupi also is Jewish and said she “grew up with Yiddish in my ear.”
 
“I was lucky enough that I grew up with that sort of feel of the language in my mouth already,” she said.
However, “I’ve never played a Jewish character. So this is really interesting to connect to in that way. That was one of the reasons I immediately knew I wanted to do it,” she said of how the role complemented her family’s background. “It’s made me think a lot about what it means to be Jewish.”
 
She’s discussed the play with her mom, who’s “excited to get to see a Jewish show that isn’t ‘Fiddler on the Roof.’”
 
Cutrupi said anyone who sees the show will leave making some sort of connection.
 
“As a whole, what I hope anybody takes away is that ‘Indecent’ is more than just a representation of pain and sadness of Jewish people. Part of what makes the show amazing is that it transcends race and sexuality and religion.”
 
Line between play and musical
Randolph said plays like “Indecent” walk the line between a play and a musical, and is a way for Music Theatre of Madison to look at what the future of musical theater is. “The way the music is used is really unusual,” she said.
For Mark Wurzelbacher, the play’s musical director, and the other two musicians — violinist Rin Ribble of Madison and clarinetist Taryn O’Neill Petterson — this is one of the first times during a performance where the audience can see them playing.
“We are not in a pit for this show, not in another room piped in, we’re walking around and we’re a part of the scenes,” Wurzelbacher said, adding “usually I don’t have to worry what my face looks like when I play.”
“I do a lot of music directing for musicals, but this is definitely a little bit different,” Wurzelbacher said.
 
The songs in “Indecent” are not long or “drawn-out” like in traditional musicals, he said. The music is instead used to “punctuate and frame important moments,” he said. “The music helps to locate … to tie a couple of the points together.”
While the actors had the challenges of learning Yiddish and German, Wurzelbacher took on the challenge of learning how to play the accordion for the show.
He describes the instrument as “similar to the piano, but very different.”
 
“There’s a lot of walking and playing,” he said, “like marching band on steroids.”
 
After teaching himself over the past year, “I kind of want to join a polka band,” he jokes. “It’s very fun to play.”
 
Learning through art
Erica Halverson is an education professor at UW-Madison, but is excited to be able to employ her “side hustle” as an actress as part of “Indecent’s” ensemble.
 
“I study how people learn in and through arts-based experiences,” Halverson said. “My passion is telling stories in innovative ways that don’t normally get told. This play in particular is right in my wheelhouse with the way the story is told.”
From the time frame, to the multiple characters telling stories in multiple ways, in English, Yiddish and German, “we’re using a huge range of roles to communicate these ideas.”
“This is what makes me interested in theater.”
 
Halverson, who is Jewish, said performing a period of time that some of her family experienced is “extra special for me.”
 
“I get to sort of embody this thing that actually happened to a group of my own family members from Kiev,” she said.
 
“It sounds very complex, and it is,” Randolph said of “Indecent.” And “it can sound a little academic, or that it’s going to be dry and the thing is, (playwright) Paula Vogel has written in so much beautiful love and emotion in this story and that’s why it’s been so successful,” she said. “She captures the humanity so beautifully.”
 
Randolph adds it’s not just a play for Jewish people, or people who are gay or lesbian.
 
It’s for “anyone who ever loved anything or cared about anything. Someone who believes in the power of art will take something from it.”
 
If you go
What: Music Theatre of Madison's "Indecent"
When:  Friday through Feb. 15. Performances Friday and Saturday as well as Feb. 6, 7, 8, 14 and 15 at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 2 and Feb. 9 at 2 p.m.
Where: Memorial Union Play Circle, 800 Langdon St. 
Tickets: $25-$35 for seniors and adults, $10 for UW students, $15-$18 for other students. Available at the Memorial Union box office or for an additional fee by phone at 608-265-2787 or online at artsticketing.wisc.edu.


5 obstacles that stop many students from taking an internship

January 24, 2020   |   By Matt Hora

From The Conversation

When her college started requiring students to complete an internship in order to graduate, it created a serious dilemma for Janelle.

“I wouldn’t be able to do classes, do the internship and work to make money – which is kind of important because I’m basically just paying for school as I can,” Janelle said in an interview for a study of internships during her junior year in South Carolina.

Janelle is by no means alone. Of the 1,060 students at five colleges and universities who answered “no” to having taken an internship for our University of Wisconsin–Madison based College Internship Study survey, 676 – or 64% – stated that they had actually hoped to take an internship but could not. The schools were located in Maryland, South Carolina and Wisconsin.

The inability to take internships is a problem because internships serve as an important signal that students are ready to enter the workforce. In a recent study, students who listed an internship on their resume received 14% more offers for an interview than those who did not. And evidence is growing that internships also lead to lower rates of unemployment after graduation, higher wages, and even better grades than students who don’t have an internship. More specifically, students who had an internship have 15% lower unemployment, 6% higher wages five years after graduation, and final year grades that are 3.4% higher than those who did not have an internship.

These impacts on students’ academic success and career prospects are one of the main reasons that internships are being promoted as a “high-impact” practice that colleges and universities should encourage all students to pursue. But our data indicate that such advocacy is problematic. What we found is that access to internships – at least the ones that are unpaid or that pay very little – favor wealthy students who can more easily forego a paycheck in order to get the valuable experience.

We found five significant obstacles that make it difficult for some students to take an internship.

1. The need to work paid jobs

The most commonly reported obstacle that prevented students from taking an internship was the simple fact that they had to continue work their full- or part-time job. Sixty percent, or 405, of the students who wanted to take an internship but could not cited this obstacle.

Among all college students, 43% percent of full-time and 81% of part-time undergraduate students work. These jobs help to pay for the constantly rising cost of tuition, as well as groceries, housing and transportation. And for the growing numbers of older students who support relatives and have bills to pay, it is simply not practical to quit a well-paying and secure job for a short-term internship that would probably pay less.

2. Too many classes

Fifty-six percent – or 376 students – among those who told us they couldn’t work an internship cited a demanding course load as the reason why. This was especially true for students majoring in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) disciplines, where courses require laboratory time and lots of homework.

A demanding course load was most frequently reported by full-time students and those who work part-time. Considering that 71% of college students who work part-time jobs actually put in 20 hours or more, time is still scarce for these students. As one student noted, such a life leads to “back-to-back-to-back scheduling” with little time for self-care, much less an internship.

3. Opportunities may be scarce

Students from the social sciences, arts and humanities frequently reported having difficulties locating an internship, much less one that was paid. With research indicating that students in arts and creative disciplines have fewer paid internship opportunities, many students in these fields face the dual obstacle of too few openings and the lack of a decent paycheck.

For 45%, or 301 students, in our study who did not take internships, the lack of internship opportunities in their field or even their place of residence was a major obstacle. But it would be a mistake to think that the challenges of finding an internship were limited to the art history and English majors. One student in a physics and applied math program in Wisconsin explained that he had not taken an internship simply because, “There aren’t any here offered for me in my field.”

4. Unpaid or poorly paid internships

Thirty-three percent, or 224 of the students who could not take internships, cited the lack of pay as the reason why. As Janelle stated, “My biggest struggle is most of them are unpaid - I am 26, getting married in a year, trying to do adult things and not getting paid for several months is just not something I can afford to do right now.” Quite simply, working for free or for a low wage is simply not feasible for many college students.

On top of coming with low or no pay, many internships – particularly those in finance, government, arts and media, or political science – are located in expensive cities that require relocation, big rents and high daily living expenses. While national data on the prevalence of unpaid internships are not available, 34% of the student interns in our study worked without a paycheck. Besides the lack of pay being a deal-breaker for many students, the evidence also indicates that unpaid internships are negatively correlated with students’ future wages and employment outcomes, which highlights the problematic nature of unpaid work for college students.

5. Lack of transportation

Transportation was an obstacle for 19%, or 129 of the non-interns in our study. For these students, not having a car effectively limited their options to on-campus internships or those accessible by public transportation.

When thinking about these obstacles, it’s important to keep in mind that some students face two or more of these intersecting obstacles at once. This in turn leaves students from wealthy, well-connected and privileged families in a better position when it comes to securing internships that could be a critical link to their first job.

As Darren Walker, the president of the Ford Foundation, stated in an op-ed about America’s “internship-industrial complex,” the current state of affairs cannot last, because too “many promising young people with limited means are denied the chance to rise as high as their talent will take them.” This is why in the College Internship Study we are also documenting promising strategies that our partner institutions are pursuing to make internships more accessible for all college students, such as course-embedded projects, undergraduate research and even micro-internships, which provide students with short-term projects that employers need completed but also introduce them to the world of precarious “gig” labor.

Until colleges and universities devote more resources to creating support systems for students struggling with these obstacles, the realities of working another shift, demanding coursework and the lack of a car will keep too many students from “opening the door of opportunity” that an internship represents.


African Americans take on more debt for grad school – but the payoff is also bigger

January 23, 2020   |   By Eric Grodsky, University of Wisconsin-Madison and Jaymes Pyne, Stanford University

From Alton Telegraph

When seeking graduate and professional degrees, African Americans take on over 50% more debt than white students. On the upside, African Americans also see a bigger payoff to earning such degrees. Whether or not that payoff is enough to make up for the additional debt burden is unclear.

These are some key takeaways from a study we released in January 2020 in the journal Sociology of Education that examined graduate school debt. We are researchers who study issues of inequality and disadvantage in education.

Our findings come at a time when there is an ongoing public debate about whether higher education is worth the cost. We believe these debates represent a paradox for African Americans who are seeking education beyond a bachelor’s degree. On the one hand, graduate school enables African Americans to climb into higher income brackets. But this upward economic mobility comes at a steep upfront financial cost.

Large differences found

For 2016, we estimate that the average white graduate student borrowed about US$28,000 while an average African American graduate student took out $43,000 to pay for their education, even when they had comparable levels of parent income, education and other resources important for educational attainment.

We found that African American graduates with an advanced degree had higher pay increases than their white peers – but not necessarily higher pay.

While a 2016 master’s degree graduate who is white could expect an 18% bump in earnings for their degree, African American master’s degree graduates could expect around a 30% bump in earnings compared to having a bachelor’s degree alone, according to our study.

Among doctoral degree holders, white graduates could expect around a 55% bump compared to a 65% increase in earnings for African Americans with doctoral degrees.

Among those with professional degrees – needed to become, say, an eye doctor or a lawyer – white graduates earned 120% more than their bachelor’s degree counterparts who were also white. By comparison, African American graduates earned 142% more than those with a bachelor’s degree who are African American.

It may be tempting to conclude that African American students should aim for an advanced degree. But the reality is more complicated than that. That extra bump African American advanced degree earners get simply puts their pay close to that of their white peers with the same degree. African American advanced degree holders are not typically making more than their white peers, even though they borrow much more to earn those degrees.

Let’s take the case of average white and African American advance degree graduates with identical incomes and identical monthly student loan payment amounts of $300. Given a constant 6% interest rate compounded monthly, it would take the average white student just over 10 years to pay off the principal and interest of their $28,000 in student loans. By contrast, it would take the average African American student 21 years to pay off the principal and interest of their $43,000 in student loans with the same $300 rate.

For these reasons, taking on large amounts of student debt may perpetuate racial inequalities across generations. For instance, debt can make it more difficult for highly educated African American parents to support their own children’s educational aspirations. If a person who has a child right after graduate school invested $300 per month to their child’s college fund versus paying off their own student debt, with a 4% rate of return they could expect to have roughly $44,000 toward their child’s college education in 10 years.

The bigger picture

With student debt nearing $1.6 trillion dollars nationally, people worry that student debt is the next financial bubble that could topple the U.S. economy. They also worry that student loans may be financially crushing an entire generation.

But our research suggests that when it comes to the nation’s $1.6 trillion student debt problem, it pays to look beyond just student loans for four-year degrees. We found that nearly half the nation’s student debt is held by households where at least one member has an advanced degree. These are households that typically enjoy relatively high incomes.

For that reason, any talk about student loan debt should take into account the debt held not just by people with four-year degrees. If disparities in student loan debt are going to be addressed, they must be addressed among people who hold graduate degrees, too.