The top reason students, parents and the public value higher education is to get a good job.
Yet, among bachelor degree graduates from 2002-2016, only 27% had a good job waiting for them upon graduation. It took one year or more for 16% to find a good job, and seven to 12 months for another 6%. Twenty-two percent indicated they were not seeking employment upon graduation, primarily because of graduate school.
This means that more than one in five (22%) graduates who were seeking employment took seven months or longer to find a good job. No college president or trustee could possibly take comfort in these numbers.
If higher education were a constituent-responsive industry, it would take this information very seriously and rigorously measure whether graduates land in a good job — or not. And accreditors — the organizations responsible for quality assessments in higher education — would include this kind of criteria prominently in their process.
But the truth is, higher education institutions and accreditors are out of sync with what the public and students want most from a college degree. And nothing will improve this more than this one step: Making an internship — where students can apply what they are learning in a real-world work situation — a requirement to graduate.
The Benefits of Internships
Here’s why: Recent graduates (those who graduated from 2002-2016) who had a relevant job or internship while in school were more than twice as likely to acquire a good job immediately after graduation. More than four in 10 of these graduates (42%) who strongly agree they had a relevant job or internship as an undergraduate had a good job waiting for them upon graduation, compared with just 20% of those who did not strongly agree.
On the other end of the spectrum, having a job or internship cuts graduates’ odds of taking a year or more to find a good job in half. Only 8% of those who strongly agree that they had a relevant job or internship took a year or more to find a good job, while 21% of those who did not have an internship took a year or more to land a good job.
What’s even more encouraging is that relevant internships and jobs during college lifts the tide for all boats. Sure, meaningful work experiences are most helpful to those in engineering fields — 67% who strongly agree they had a relevant job/internship had a good job after graduation. Yet students in social sciences, hard sciences and business who had a relevant job or internship are also substantially more likely to have had a good job waiting for them after graduation. Even arts and humanities majors who had these types of relevant work experiences in college are more than twice as likely to have had a good job upon graduation.
Acquiring a good job immediately after graduation, however, is just one of several benefits associated with students having meaningful jobs and internships as part of their college experience.
Students with these meaningful work experiences are not only finding good jobs quickly, they are also finding them in fields related to their undergraduate studies. Across all majors, students who strongly agreed that they had a job or internship where they could apply what they were learning in the classroom are significantly more likely to be in jobs that are completely related to their undergraduate studies.
Why Should Colleges and Universities Care?
Relevant internships in college can lead to relevant jobs after graduation. Why should this matter to colleges and universities? Because graduates with work-integrated learning during college are more likely to value their degree after college.
Among these recent graduates, 47% of those who are in jobs completely related to their undergraduate studies strongly agree that their education was worth the cost. Meanwhile, only about a third (36%) of graduates in jobs where their work is somewhat related to their college studies — and only 29% of those in jobs where work is not at all related to their undergraduate studies — strongly agree their education was worth the cost. And those who strongly agree their education was worth the cost are also twice as likely to have donated to their alma mater in the last 12 months.
By emphasizing — or even requiring — relevant jobs and internships as part of the undergraduate experience, colleges and universities set their graduates up to acquire good jobs after graduation in fields where their work is directly relevant to their undergraduate studies. And, as a result, these students recognize the value of their investment in their degree.