Colleges and universities are under increasing pressure to better prepare students for the world of work and integrate career preparation into their degree programs. There are many avenues to pursue in these efforts, including enhancing career services offices, revising general education curricula, and coordinating academic offerings with local workforce needs. One particularly promising approach is offering more experiential learning opportunities, like study abroad, service-learning, and undergraduate research. These experiences allow students to apply what they have learned in their courses directly to real world situations and authentic problems with the opportunity to build contextual knowledge. It is exactly that kind of learning, using, and integrating knowledge to solve real-world problems, that employers look for in college graduates.

The Council of Independent Colleges (CIC), with generous support from Strada Education Foundation and Ascendium Education Group, is piloting a newer form of experiential learning—virtual work-based learning—with 25 small to midsized, independent colleges and universities. The Work-Based Learning Consortium provides participating institutions with access to Riipen, an online experiential learning marketplace and platform that matches instructors with organizations and employers to provide students with real-world learning opportunities. A key feature of the learning opportunities on the Riipen platform is that they can be completed remotely, greatly increasing the financial and geographic accessibility of work-based learning. Riipen also provides training and ongoing support for instructors incorporating these experiences into their courses.

The Council of Independent Colleges (CIC) is an association of more than 700 nonprofit independent colleges and universities, state-based councils of independent colleges, and other higher education affiliates, that works to support college and university leadership, advance institutional excellence, and enhance public understanding of independent higher education’s contributions to society. CIC offers conferences, seminars, publications, and other programs and services that help independent institutions improve educational quality, administrative and financial performance, student outcomes, and institutional visibility.

Riipen is a work-based learning platform helping educators, organizations, and learners collaborate on real industry projects to bridge the gap between higher education and employment. With a network of 27,000+ employers and trusted by 430 academic institutions and training providers, Riipen helps educators integrate real-employer projects into program curriculum leading to improved student engagement and employability outcomes.

The Consortium will involve training five faculty champions at each of the 25 participating institutions to integrate work-based learning projects through the Riipen platform into one upper-level course per year for three years. The pilot program will run for three years, resulting in up to 125 courses revised to include work-based learning for potentially 11,000 students. Once the pilot project has concluded, CIC plans to expand the Consortium network and offer access to all 660+ members for a fee.

How is Ithaka S+R involved?

Ithaka S+R will be supporting this project as the external evaluator, focused on collecting, analyzing, and reporting both formative and summative results throughout the pilot period. We will survey students enrolled in the courses revised to include work-based learning as well as students in traditionally-taught sections. This approach will enable us to follow both groups of students beyond graduation to document their post-college outcomes to estimate the impact of work-based learning on students’ labor market outcomes in comparison with the matched group. We hope to add to both the empirical and practice literature about work-based learning and its impact on student outcomes. We will be hearing from instructors at multiple points during each of the three years of the pilot program to both improve future iterations of the pilot instructor training and prepare recommendations for the eventual larger roll-out of work-based learning to all CIC members.

This work draws on Ithaka S+R’s extensive experience in conducting multi-institutional evaluations, including our work evaluating a proactive, student advising intervention at 11 institutions and the Kessler Scholars Collaborative at 16 institutions, as well as our prior work in workforce development. In addition to providing formative recommendations to our partners throughout this multi-year evaluation, we will be preparing a summative report on the longitudinal impacts of work-based learning and how such programs can be effectively scaled at institutions that have not traditionally offered such experiences.

Watch this space for periodic updates exploring work-based learning, the empirical framework behind experiential learning, and updates from the pilot program evaluation.