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REL Midwest Ask A REL Response

College and Career Readiness

May 2018


What research and resources are available on the implementation of work-based learning experiences in STEM fields, particularly for high-need students?


Following an established Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Midwest protocol, we conducted a search for research reports and descriptive studies on the implementation of work-based learning experiences in STEM fields. In particular, we focused on identifying resources related to high-need students. For details on the databases and sources, keywords, and selection criteria used to create this response, please see the Methods section at the end of this memo.

Below, we share a sampling of the publicly accessible resources on this topic. The search conducted is not comprehensive; other relevant references and resources may exist. The references are selected from the most commonly used research resources and may not be comprehensive. For each reference, we provide an abstract, excerpt, or summary written by the study’s author or publisher. References are listed in alphabetical order, not necessarily in order of relevance. We have not evaluated the quality of these references, but provide them for your information only.

Research References

Advance CTE: State Leaders Connecting Learning to Work. (2016). Measuring work-based learning for continuous improvement. Connecting the classroom to careers: The state’s role in work-based learning. Silver Spring, MD: Author. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “Work-based learning provides a continuum of activities--from career exploration and job shadowing to internships and apprenticeships--that help students develop technical and professional skills in an authentic work environment. While many work-based learning programs are designed and operated at the local level, several states have begun building a data collection and evaluation strategy to ensure program quality, identify and scale successful programs, and share promising practices. The brief from Advance CTE is the latest installment in the ‘Connecting the Classroom to Careers’ series, which examines the state’s role in expanding work-based learning opportunities for K-12 students. This issue highlights examples from West Virginia, Tennessee and Massachusetts that demonstrate either a systems-level or student-level approach to measuring work-based learning activities.”

Alfeld, C., Charner, I., Johnson, L., & Watts, E. (2013). Work-based learning opportunities for high school students. Louisville, KY: National Research Center for Career and Technical Education. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “This report describes the Year 5 work of the National Research Center for Career and Technical Education’s (NRCCTE) Technical Assistance (TA) Academy. In 2011-2012, the TA plan carried out by FHI 360 on behalf of the NRCCTE focused on developing a conceptual base for work-based learning (WBL), a strategy that helps students apply academic and technical skills and develop employability skills. To gather information on best practices in WBL for high-school aged students in the United States, FHI 360 used a multi-pronged approach, including a literature review, web searches, telephone interviews, and site visits to examine three WBL models: internships/co-operative (co-op) education, apprenticeships, and school-based enterprises. Findings are categorized and summarized, and recommendations for WBL are presented.”

Cahill, C., Hoffman, N., Loyd, A., & Vargas, J. (2014). State strategies for sustaining and scaling grades 9-14 career pathways: Toward a policy set for Pathways to Prosperity. Boston, MA: Jobs For the Future. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “This brief begins with a discussion of the composition of state leadership teams and organizing structures for supporting a Pathways to Prosperity Network initiative, and then describes effective strategies currently at play in the network states for jumpstarting work in the regions. It goes on to review state policies that support 9-14 collaborations, including dual enrollment, career and technical education policy, and funding. The 9-14 career pathways policy lever is well developed as a result of extensive work by several organizations, including Jobs for the Future (JFF), which has a decade of experience in high school-to-post-secondary transitions that incorporate dual enrollment. JFF has also developed a specific 9-14 policy set to support Early College Designs. The organization has led the Early College High School Initiative nationally since 2002. The paper then becomes more speculative. In the sections on career advising, employer engagement, and intermediaries, the paper lists and briefly describes policies that could be deployed in the service of 9-14 career pathways development, but are not currently widespread or designed specifically to support 9-14 career pathways. These sections are shorter, and while they do include some examples, they also point in new directions that might be explored and raise questions about where state-level policies are needed and where regional and local decision making are more effective.”

Cahill, C. (2016). Making work-based learning work. Boston, MA: Jobs For the Future. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “Americans seeking employment often face a conundrum: relevant work experience is a prerequisite for many jobs, but it is difficult to gain the required experience without being in the workplace. Work-based learning—activities that occur in workplaces through which youth and adults gain the knowledge, skills, and experience needed for entry or advancement in a particular career field—offers a solution to this problem. But although the benefits of work-based learning are clear, they have accrued primarily to the most highly educated and socially connected segments of the U.S. population. In recent years, educators and leaders in the workforce development field have returned again and again to the problem of providing work-based learning opportunities to the marginalized populations for whom this experience can mean the most. This paper guides the design and implementation of effective models of work-based learning that expand access for the many people who don't currently benefit from these opportunities, including the introduction of seven principles for effective work-based learning that Jobs For the Future (JFF) has identified based on more than three decades of experience in promoting and implementing education and workforce strategies that support youth and adults seeking to launch and advance in careers.”

Castellano, M., Stone, J. R., III, Stringfield, S., Farley-Ripple, E. N., Overman, L. T., & Hussain, R. (2007). Career-based comprehensive school reform: Serving disadvantaged youth in minority communities. Columbus, OH: National Research Center for Career and Technical Education. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “This report presents the results of a five-year longitudinal study designed to examine the effect of career-based comprehensive school reform on creating a successful high school experience and preparing youth for the adult world of postsecondary education and work. The study included three feeder patterns of middle schools, high schools, and community colleges in communities with high percentages of at-risk students. The high schools implemented career-based comprehensive school reform to try to improve the educational chances of the poor and minority students they served. Comparison high schools with similar student populations but not undergoing comprehensive school reform efforts were found. High school engagement and achievement were measured using attendance, dropout, course-taking, and graduation data. High school transition was measured using responses to a senior survey, participation in Tech Prep and dual credit opportunities, and achievement data for the graduates who attended their local community college. All measures were compared to the comparison school students. The outcomes were mixed. None of the three schools achieved consistent gains over their respective comparison group on measures of academic achievement. However, one finding held true across all six high schools: The odds of dropping out declined as the proportion of the high school experience invested in CTE courses increased. In terms of transition to postsecondary, more students reported having a post-high school plan than their comparison school counterparts at two of the three study schools. Many students at the study schools aligned their next step with their high school course of study. Finally, most of the students who attended their local community college needed to take remedial coursework. The implications of these findings are discussed.”

Hauge, K., & Parton, B. (2016). State strategies to scale quality work-based learning. Washington, DC: NGA Center for Best Practices. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “Industries in every state are struggling to find qualified applicants for jobs, while job seekers too often find they lack the skills needed to enter or move along a career pathway to a good job. Preparing a workforce that is poised to meet the needs of businesses and ultimately to make the state more economically competitive is a top priority for many governors. ‘State Strategies to Scale Quality Work-Based Learning’ highlights strategies governors can implement to increase opportunities for high-quality, demand-driven work-based learning and prepare their citizens for the modern workforce.”

Kantrov, I. (2017). Achieving educational equity and justice in career academies: Challenges and promising strategies. Boston, MA: Education Development Center. Retrieved from

From the description: “Career academies are a model of career and technical education (CTE) that combines academic rigor, instruction that is relevant to students’ lives, and strong relationships between students and adults. Shown to have positive impacts on high school students’ motivation, graduation rates, postsecondary enrollment, and career outcomes, career academies also have great potential to reduce opportunity and achievement gaps. This report provides an in-depth look at equity issues and challenges that seven career academies in the Ford Next Generation Learning (NGL) network have encountered, and describes eight effective strategies that the academies are using to address inequities. Findings from a review of related literature are interwoven throughout the report.”

Loera, G. (2016). Improving the connection between healthcare employers and schools to increase work-based learning opportunities for urban high school students. Journal of Urban Learning, Teaching, and Research, 12, 15–23. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “This study advances an experiential learning framework for educators to: (1) identify workforce-building strategies from key healthcare industry informants, (2) strengthen school-industry partnerships, and (3) shape urban high school students’ career readiness experiences through curriculum and real life on-the-job training opportunities. Data was gathered from structured phone interviews with 21 healthcare industry leadership and management informants. Three key findings emerged. First, a financial burden and disengagement of leadership from the healthcare industry is a barrier. Second, creating effective partnerships as long-term investments is a challenge. Third, more needs to be done on aligning education and training with the healthcare industry.”

Nayar, N., Bracco, K. R., & Darche, S. (2009). Work-based learning in California: Opportunities and models for expansion. San Francisco, CA: James Irvine Foundation and WestEd. Retrieved from

From the description: “Work-based learning is an educational strategy that links academic instruction with the world of work. By itself, it is a powerful tool for motivating students and enhancing learning. But it holds particular promise in the context of multiple pathways, an approach to high school reform in California that seeks to prepare more young people for success both in college and the workplace.

This report, prepared by WestEd researchers for The James Irvine Foundation, takes a broad look at work-based learning in California: how it is practiced, what it looks like when done well, and how it could be expanded to engage more students.”

Rodriguez, J., Fox, H., & McCambly, H. (2016). Work-based learning as a pathway to postsecondary and career success. Insights on Equity and Outcomes, 18. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “Work-based learning (WBL) is a key example of the integration of academic and occupational training that is central to career and technical education (CTE) and through which students have the ability to gain high-wage, high-skilled occupational experience while pursuing postsecondary credentials (Bragg, Dresser, & Smith, 2012; Chernus & Fowler 2010; Holzer & Lerman, 2014; Rayborn, 2015). Evidence suggests WBL has notable benefits for students, specifically students of color (Lerman, 2010). WBL reinforces the relevancy and authenticity of the learning experiences for students, engaging learners who prefer applied learning environments (Lerman, 2010). Moreover, WBL has been found to increase students' persistence, graduation, and employment rates, with notable gains for students from underserved racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic backgrounds (Holzer & Lerman, 2014; Kuh, 2008; Lerman, 2010; National Survey of Student Engagement, 2007). This brief provides an overview of WBL, including a broad definition of WBL in postsecondary education settings, the benefits of WBL, and key elements for implementing high-impact, high-quality WBL programs.”

Rogers-Chapman, M. F., & Darling-Hammond, L. (2013). Preparing 21st century citizens: The role of work-based learning in linked learning. Stanford, CA: Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education. Retrieved from

From the description: “The idea of linking hands-on learning with academics is not a new one. John Dewey advocated education through experience at the turn of the last century. Unfortunately, relatively few schools offer this integrated approach, typically limiting instruction to textbooks and lectures.

Yet, evidence suggests that students who engage in experiences that connect school learning to the real world, are more likely to stay in school. Furthermore, such experiences increase the chances that students will be both college and career ready. Work-based learning (WBL) programs are an integral part of Linked Learning and help foster the goal of providing students with the skills they need to succeed in college and career.

This brief describes the successful elements of WBL programs and offers guidance for implementation.”

Showalter, T., & Spiker, K. (2016). Promising practices in work-based learning for youth. Washington, DC: National Skills Coalition. Retrieved from

From the description: “Through conversations with youth intermediaries and employers, community-based organizations running youth programming, and youth participants, we concluded that work-based learning programs should provide the following elements to ensure success for both the participant in the program and the business for which they work:

  1. Paid work-based learning opportunities, with wages provided either through employer, provider, or combination of the two: By combining paid work with academic instruction, work-based learning makes it easier for youth participants to support themselves and their families while gaining skills and credentials that can translate into longer-term career advancement.
  2. Strong partnerships with business and other community stakeholders: To realize the benefits from WBL, business partners must be engaged throughout the process of starting and running a program. The most successful programs also rely on partnerships with other stakeholders to deliver key educational or support services.
  3. Positive youth development and continued support services: Work-based learning requires significant investments in wages, education, and necessary partnerships among a variety of stakeholders. WBL may be even more expensive to deliver to youth participants because they often need more intense support services for a longer period of time than adults need in order to succeed
  4. Linkages to career pathways either through future employment opportunities or future education and training opportunities: Work-based learning can expose youth to different career opportunities, help them build work experience and a work history, increase understanding of the application of classroom learning on the jobsite, and connect them with adult mentors successfully working in their chosen industry.”

Additional Organizations to Consult

Center for Apprenticeship & Work-Based Learning –

From the website: “As part of our mission, the Center provides valuable resources and tools to help jumpstart involvement in the work-based learning lifecycle. We have a full library of resources.”

Work-Based Learning Tool Kit –

From the website: “This tool kit will provide state and local program administrators with information regarding the key components of work-based learning (WBL), an instructional strategy that enhances classroom learning by connecting it to the workplace. It offers guidelines and resources related to creating a state WBL strategy, engaging employers, collecting data, and scaling effective programs.”


Keywords and Search Strings

The following keywords and search strings were used to search the reference databases and other sources:


  • P-TECH

  • “Pathways to Prosperity initiative”

  • Work-based learning

Databases and Search Engines

We searched ERIC for relevant resources. ERIC is a free online library of more than 1.6 million citations of education research sponsored by the Institute of Education Sciences (IES). Additionally, we searched Institute of Education Sciences (IES) and Google Scholar.

Reference Search and Selection Criteria

When we were searching and reviewing resources, we considered the following criteria:

  • Date of the publication: References and resources published over the last 15 years, from 2002 to present, were include in the search and review.

  • Search priorities of reference sources: Search priority is given to study reports, briefs, and other documents that are published or reviewed by IES and other federal or federally funded organizations.

  • Methodology: We used the following methodological priorities/considerations in the review and selection of the references: (a) study types—randomized control trials, quasi-experiments, surveys, descriptive data analyses, literature reviews, policy briefs, and so forth, generally in this order, (b) target population, samples (e.g., representativeness of the target population, sample size, volunteered or randomly selected), study duration, and so forth, and (c) limitations, generalizability of the findings and conclusions, and so forth.
This memorandum is one in a series of quick-turnaround responses to specific questions posed by educational stakeholders in the Midwest Region (Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, Wisconsin), which is served by the Regional Educational Laboratory (REL Region) at American Institutes for Research. This memorandum was prepared by REL Midwest under a contract with the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences (IES), Contract ED-IES-17-C-0007, administered by American Institutes for Research. Its content does not necessarily reflect the views or policies of IES or the U.S. Department of Education nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by the U.S. Government.