A&M-San Antonio students gain real-world work experience as part of the University’s Career READY program.
Not many programs can boast a 100-percent satisfaction rate. So far Texas A&M University-San Antonio’s Career READY (Relevant Experience, Academics, Development, and You!) program is getting high marks from students and employers.
In 2019 A&M-San Antonio applied to be part of a new Federal Work Study (FWS) “Experimental Sites Initiative” through the U.S. Department of Education. The University was notified in summer 2020 of its acceptance into the program as one of fewer than 200 participating colleges and universities. In November 2020, A&M-San Antonio received an additional $183,000 in FWS funds to direct toward student employment opportunities with off-campus employers in positions that align with student career and academic goals.
Within three months of receiving those funds, the University launched Career READY, with these impressive outcomes to date:
- A total of 30 undergraduate students were hired into the program as of summer 2021, the majority of whom were employed in clinical teaching opportunities spread across seven school districts.
- Nine employer partners participated, including small businesses and non-profits across San Antonio.
- By the end of the spring 2021 semester $121,207 was paid to students for their off-campus employment experiences.
Another indicator of Career READY’s success is the direct feedback from students and employers:
- Of student respondents 100 percent say their participation in the program increased their desire to complete their academic degree.
- Of participating employers 100 percent say the opportunity for students to be paid for their work made a positive impact on their performance.
According to one education major: “This program has taught me so much about my career field and what to expect on a day-to-day basis. Having this internship allowed me to put management strategies learned in the classroom into effect. It showed me what skills and strategies worked and which ones failed.”
For one general business major, Career READY provided invaluable experience with managing and operating a business. “The vast amount of logistics that are required to continually operate the organization are what I wanted experience in. Classes will teach you the theoretical side of business, but not the practical – signing agreements, auditing your paperwork, setting up employee accounts and so forth. This internship has also given me experience with transitioning back into the workforce.”
A Team Effort
Career READY would not have launched with such resounding success without participation from inaugural employer partners, says Mysti Frazier, internship coordinator for the Mays Center for Experiential Learning and Community Engagement. The nine local small businesses and non-profit employers included Momentum Physical Therapy, San Antonio Food Bank, San Antonio Police Department, House of Neighborly Service, Ascension de Paul Services, Saddle Light Center, Mix Fit SA, University of the Incarnate Word, and disABILITYsa.
Across campus, University departments contributing to the program’s success include the Mays Center, Office of Scholarships and Financial Aid, Human Resources, Financial Services, Information Technology Services, Compliance, Office of the President, Marketing and Communications, and Academic Advising. Additionally, faculty within the departments of Curriculum and Instruction, Communications, Accounting and Finance, and Health and Kinesiology contributed to strong student developmental successes for this pilot.
Ripe for Expansion
The 30 A&M-San Antonio students hired to date through Career READY represent only a fraction of the University’s student population that would be eligible for a program like this. A&M-San Antonio is in talks with almost a dozen new companies interested in partnering on this program, which is attractive to employers as well as to students, notes Frazier. As one company partner stated: “The Career READY program saved us money and provided the talent we needed from a bright student.”
With more time and funding, Frazier is confident the program could expand to other academic departments and company partnerships. “As we work to use every dollar of the program, we have established best practices in a way to make the program accessible, versatile and expandable,” says Frazier. “Added funding will help strengthen the outcomes of the experiment and contribute greatly to the needs of our students and community.”
The University plans to release a progress report later this summer detailing the outcomes of its initial year of participation in this experimental FWS pilot and will have the opportunity to apply for renewed and possibly additional funding for the coming academic year starting in fall 2021.
Financially Feasible Career Training
“This program has really been a game changer for a number of our Jaguar students,” says Krystina Irvin, A&M-San Antonio’s director of experiential learning. She cites research from NACE (National Association of Colleges and Employers) that suggests one key factor in securing timely, full-time employment in a student’s chosen career path or degree field is the student’s ability to gain experience in that field prior to graduation. “For many of our students who depend on a reliable source of income for themselves and their families, it can be challenging to take on a temporary internship, which may or may not be paid, in place of regular employment – even if that internship experience will set the student up for greater success after graduation,” says Irvin.
According to Frazier many A&M-San Antonio students have already expressed the difference this opportunity has made for them. “They are able to worry less about finances so they can focus on being great interns at their work sites. They have more interest in what they are doing and learning on the job and can even expand the number of hours they are able to put in each week,” notes Frazier. “A&M-San Antonio is on a mission to improve the success of our students and their families, and our involvement in this experimental initiative is certainly helping us achieve that.”
Measuring Long-Term Benefits
Part of the aim of the Experimental Sites Initiative is to improve student post-graduation employment while also helping reduce student debt. In outlining the rationale of this pilot program, the Department of Education suggests FWS recipients may be better served if more of them receive opportunities related to their academic programs. The initiative aims to collect more data about whether students are better served by off-campus work-study opportunities that give them direct career experience.
For instance, the initiative allows institutions to pay students for work experiences such as clinical rotations and student teaching that are required by students’ academic programs. Among the waivers participating institutions can seek is to lift FWS restrictions on part-time employment so that students can seek career-relevant full-time internships and apprenticeships.
For more information about the Career READY program, contact:
Phillip Rodgers, Director of Financial Aid and Scholarships
Krystina Irvin, Director of Experiential Learning