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JFF Awarded More than $1M to Advance Work-Based Learning in Community College STEM Education

October 24, 2018


JFF has long emphasized the value of workplace experience in a student’s education and the importance of expanding opportunities in the STEM fields. 

But more needs to be done to increase the number of women, people of color, and others who are severely underrepresented in fast-growing, high-paying STEM careers. 

With the support of a $1.26 million grant from the National Science Foundation, JFF, a national leader in the field of apprenticeship and work-based learning, will conduct research and make  recommendations on how to reverse this trend. Under the three-year grant, JFF will dig into the use of credit-bearing internships—those that provide college credit as well as job experience—with particular attention on STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) programs at community colleges. 

“Over the years, JFF has witnessed the advantages of students having workplace experience as part of their education, as a way to deepen their learning experience and to understand career goals and pathways,” says Maria Flynn, JFF president and CEO. “Thanks to the National Science Foundation, we can now find ways to widen participation by underrepresented groups and share those best practices at a national level.” These groups, which include people of color, low-income students, and first-generation college students, often face barriers to access to high-quality, work-based learning experiences that could become stepping stones to better economic opportunities. 

Two Florida college systems are participating in the research. St. Petersburg College and Broward College were chosen because of their strong STEM programs and their national leadership in work-based learning. 

The role of community college in STEM fields is significant. In 2010, community college STEM programs accounted for nearly one quarter of the STEM workforce, according to the US Department of Commerce. 

The research will also address what makes a successful work-based learning STEM program at community college; who participates and why; and the impacts on community college persistence, completion, and transitions to further STEM education and careers. 

Partnering with WestEd, a nonprofit education research group, the research will have a three-pronged approach: interviews with students, faculty, administrators, and employers associated with internships at the two community colleges; analysis of student records from the schools; and comparisons with state data. 

The research will be overseen by an advisory board that includes Eric Seleznow, senior advisor and director of JFF’s Center for Apprenticeship & Work-Based Learning; Ariane Hegewisch, program director, Employment & Earnings at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research; Mary Alice McCarthy, director, Center on Education and Skills, New America; Neil Ridley, state initiatives director, Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce; and Larry E. Suter, a consultant and Visiting Scholar at the University of Michigan. 

The project complements other work that JFF is doing in community college STEM programs with its Persistence Plus initiative and in JFF’s Center for Apprenticeship & Work-Based Learning.

JFF is a national nonprofit that drives transformation in the American labor market through system disruption and innovation at scale.

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