Study to Explore Ways to Widen Student Career Paths
UT Dallas Researchers to Find What Works with Inner-City High-Schoolers
March 18, 2008
They are some of the top students from Dallas inner-city high schools, yet when asked about their career goals, their ideas don’t go much beyond “cut hair” and “play sports.”
To understand these attitudes better, a team from the University of Texas at Dallas is conducting a study, funded by a $251,686 grant from the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, to follow a group of college-bound, inner-city Dallas students from their senior years in high school through their first years in college.
The researchers will separate the students into groups and expose each group to health careers using a different method. They will then look at the impact on the students’ career intentions.
“These are bright, hard-working students, but their aspirations are limited by their knowledge of the available options,” said Dr. Cynthia Ledbetter, a professor in the School of Natural Sciences and Mathematics. Ledbetter is working with Dr. Jim Murdoch, head of the economics program in the School of Economic, Political and Public Policy, to widen these high-schoolers’ potential career paths.
This collaboration between an educator and an economist will offer a unique perspective as Murdoch and Ledbetter study the effectiveness of spending on occupational enrichment programs for Texas high-school students.
As an educator, Ledbetter is interested in the best way to reach students. The key question: “Is one-shot exposure good enough, or does it take many exposures to change kids’ attitudes?” As an economist, Murdoch takes a fiscal approach. “Currently there is a lot of spending on career fairs, but no one knows if they work. We’d like to know what will get the kids the most bang for the buck,” he said.
The Dallas Independent School District has an interest in the study, as it considers adding more career-focused material to its curriculum. The UT Dallas professors have been working closely with the DISD-approved Education is Freedom program, which helps prepare at-risk students for college.
The Education is Freedom Foundation had already been working with students at three urban Dallas high schools. Students from the EIF program volunteered for Murdoch and Ledbetter’s study. “We believe the UT Dallas research will benefit the future of the EIF program, but the group of student volunteers is gaining a lot out of this experience as well,” said Dr. Marcus Martin, president and CEO of Education is Freedom.
“It is so important that area health education centers, and other organizations that promote careers, understand how we can improve our effectiveness,” said Dr. Lori Millner, executive director of the DFW Area Health Education Center.
The center worked with the UT Dallas professors to write the proposal for the grant and will continue to help arrange the health career activities for the students. “These students thought they had to be a doctor or a nurse, if they wanted a career in the health field. We’re showing them the whole spectrum of opportunities from veterinarian technician to school nurse to radiologist,” said Ledbetter.
During the course of the study, the students will not only learn more about career possibilities, but also get a chance to talk with UT Dallas students and faculty. UT Dallas economics professors Kurt Beron and Susan McElroy and several graduate research assistants will also play a role in the study.
In addition, students in the study have met with advisers and students from the University’s Academic Bridge Program, which offers assistance to students who have high class rankings but who may not have completed a college preparatory curriculum or met all the University’s entrance requirements.
Murdoch and Ledbetter expect that their approaches will complement each other and offer more meaningful results. Not only will the study help educators find the more effective ways to reach students with career-oriented messages, but it will also help maximize the efficiency of the state’s and foundation’s spending on occupational enrichment programs. Murdoch also believes the data could help justify increased spending on these programs for at-risk youth in the future.
|“These are bright, hard-working students, but their aspirations are limited by their knowledge of the available options,” said Cynthia Ledbetter, a professor in the School of Natural Sciences and Mathematics.|
|“Currently there is a lot of spending on career fairs, but no one knows if they work. We’d like to know what will get the kids the most bang for the buck,” said James C. Murdoch a professor in the School of Economic, Political and Policy Sciences.|