Small Gain Comes Even As Employers Increasingly Seek Real-World Experience
By Douglas Belkin
Wall Street Journal Nov. 13, 2014
The number of recent graduates who completed an internship that applied what they were learning in college has ticked up only slightly from a previous generation, a survey showed, even as employers are putting increasing value on real-world experience.
In a Gallup-Purdue survey of 30,000 graduates last winter, 35% of students who finished school between 2010 and 2014 reported having an internship or a job related to their field of study. That represents an increase of just 4 percentage points from the class of 1990. The survey is set to be released Thursday.
â€œWe still have a lot of work to do,â€ said Brandon Busteed, executive director of Gallup Education. â€œThere are a lot of folks in the academic community who arenâ€™t moving hard enough or fast enough around this issue.â€
The value of a college diploma and traditional measures such as grade-point average have fallen among employers looking for other ways to discern if a hire is a good bet. Employers now give nearly twice as much weight to graduatesâ€™ work experience as to their academic credentials, according to a 2012 survey for the Chronicle of Higher Education.
Underemployment among recent graduates has been stuck above 40% since the recession.
Some universities have moved internships to the center of their curriculum, and schools such as Wake Forest University, in North Carolina, and the University of Vermont have relocated career-services offices to more prominent positions on campus to indicate the importance of connecting studies to work. Operating budgets for career centers at U.S. schools rose about 10% between 2013 and 2014, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers.
Whitman College in Walla Walla, Wash., has created a $1.25 million endowment to support its internship program. Last year, the school hired a director of business engagement to reach out to alumni and the business community for internship opportunities. Three years ago, 30 students held summer internships, and last year that number grew to 130, said Noah Leavitt, associate dean of students.
At Messiah College in Mechanicsburg, Pa,, a non-denomination Christian school, every student will soon be required to do an internship or an equivalent before they graduate, said Peter Powers, dean of the School of Humanities. In some majors, students will write a paper connecting their experience to their studies.
â€œIf a philosophy major interned at a bank, they might write about the philosophy of economics or money,â€ Mr. Powers said.
Mitch Daniels, president of Purdue University in Indiana, which is a sponsor of the survey, said the school is expanding summer classes, freeing up students to hold internships in the fall and winter. â€œThe businesses we work with can only absorb so many students at one time,â€ said the former Indiana governor. â€œThis ought to open up a lot of new slots.â€
Additional findings in the Gallup survey: 33% of graduates who finished school between 2000 and 2009 held an internship during college as compared with 24% of those who graduated between 1970 and 1979. Just 22% of those who finished school before 1959 held one.
In addition, 31% of women interned versus 27% of men. African-Americans (32%) were more likely than whites (29%), Hispanics (29%) or Asians (26%) to have interned or worked during school.
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