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Study says ‘high-impact practices’ could close learning gap between U.S.-born and immigrant and international students

Release Date: June 2, 2021

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Portrait of Jaekyung Lee.
“Disadvantaged students are often neglected and stereotyped as not being capable of obtaining success when it is the environments that are at fault. ”
Jaekyung Lee, professor of counseling, school and educational psychology in the UB Graduate School of Education

BUFFALO, N.Y. – College students who engaged in four or more high-impact practices such as study abroad or internships have a 70% chance of either enrolling in graduate school or finding a full-time job after graduating with a bachelor’s degree, finds a new University at Buffalo study.

Each additional high-impact practice increased a student’s chance of attaining a bachelor’s degree and a full-time job by 17% or enrolling in graduate school by 30%, according to the study. These practices – such as study abroad, internships, undergraduate research, community service, first-year seminars and capstone courses – have the greatest influence on college success, regardless of student or family background, say the researchers.

The results, published in the International Journal of Educational Research Open, may help universities close the learning gap between immigrant and international college students compared to students whose families were born in the United States, ensuring educational equity and inclusion for marginalized students.

Immigrant students are more likely to be economically disadvantaged, take part in fewer high-impact practices, and lag behind U.S.-born students in graduation rates, graduate school enrollment and job attainment, according to the study.

International students excel in graduation rates and graduate school enrollment but trail in finding full-time employment, despite higher levels of participation in high-impact practices than U.S.-born students. Strict anti-immigration policies that limit employment, internship and research opportunities for international students may contribute to their difficulties in finding employment, says lead investigator Jaekyung Lee, PhD, professor of counseling, school and educational psychology in the UB Graduate School of Education.

“Disadvantaged students are often neglected and stereotyped as not being capable of obtaining success when it is the environments that are at fault,” says Lee. “Transforming one’s self-trajectory at the individual level is an unfair burden on students whose every day is already fraught with multi-systemic barriers. Intentional, committed action at the institutional level is vital to students’ college readiness and success.”

“It is important that higher education institutions do not merely state they value inclusion, but provide support services that address key issues such as language difficulties, adjusting to cultural norms, financial concerns and discrimination,” says Namsook Kim, PhD, co-author and clinical assistant professor of educational leadership and policy in the UB Graduate School of Education.

The study, funded by the AccessLex Institute, Association for Institutional Research, and UB Baldy Center for Law and Social Policy, sought to compare the performance of immigrant and international college students with U.S.-born students, and understand the factors that improved or impeded their success.

The researchers examined data on student transition from college to career from the National Center for Education Statistics, and interviewed international and immigrant students. Students were considered U.S.-born if their parents were born in the U.S., and regarded as immigrants if their parents were born in another country but reside in the U.S.

Mengchen Su, doctoral candidate in the UB Graduate School of Education, is also an investigator.

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