Student Understandings of Career and Gainful Employment: a Critique of US Educational Policy Using Structurating Activity Theory

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Applied organizational communication, structurating activity theory (SAT), gainful employment (GE), educational policy, careers

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U.S. policymakers designed the Gainful Employment Rule (GE) and College Scorecard (CS) to make college decision-making, the outcome of major choice, and long-term economic cost/benefits of student loans readily transparent. Yet, focus group d/Discourse indicate that such interventions fail to meet these ethical objectives but also undermine student educational progress and well-being. Using structurating activity theory and critical discourse analysis, we draw out discursive-material themes and contradictions to portray how students resist, shift, and comply with GE as well as U.S. educational and career philosophies and practices. We contribute to critiques of academic and vocational preparation and achievement as cultural formations or Discourses that appear to (a) offer hope for personal fulfillment, economic prosperity, and life-long career success; while they simultaneously (b) alter expectations, defer dreams, and incur unanticipated outcomes. In doing so, we contribute to policy communication research and social justice with pragmatic multi-level applications based on generative contradictions.

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Journal of Applied Communication Research, v. 50, issue 2, p. 149-168