Colleges That Work
The American Freshman survey—the highly respected annual survey by the Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA—tells the story of how students are increasingly considering practical and economic factors when choosing which college or university to attend. In 2015, more than 60% of freshmen indicated that the ability of a school’s graduates to obtain good jobs is “very important.”
Gallup found that alums who had an internship or job that allowed them to apply what they were learning in the classroom were twice as likely to be engaged at work. Such “Work-Integrated Learning (WIL)” also makes postsecondary learning deeper, more relevant, and purposeful.
WIL is critical to developing graduates’ employability and to bridging the worlds of study and work, the curricular and co-curricular. WIL provides both academic and professional benefits. Research shows strong relationships between participation in WIL and college completion, employment after graduation, and employer satisfaction with graduates’ skills. It increases career planning, awareness, and readiness. Plus, it can aid affordability and completion, speeding graduates’ transitions to the workforce.
Many colleges work directly with businesses to create internship (both paid and unpaid) opportunities for students. Such opportunities provide valuable benefits to students, institutions, businesses, and economies by:
- Providing professional experiences that aid students and graduates in securing full-time employment
Linking academic learning to the workplace and providing for applied learning
- Allowing students to earn money while they learn
- Addressing employers’ workforce, human capital and skill needs in critical emerging or high-growth industries
All students should consider internships. Begin with a list of the most important criteria for an internship. Will it be paid or unpaid? Will it offer academic credit? What industry or occupation interests you? What kind of workplace culture do you want? Will you get the opportunity to work with a mentor who can show you the ropes and offer invaluable inside perspective?
How Colleges Integrate WIL
The investment fund, University Ventures, has identified models for partnerships with employers. One allows employers to “co-locate” with a postsecondary education enterprise. For example, Northeastern University’s Silicon Valley Hub is co-located at Integrated Device Technology, a California company led by a Northeastern alumnus. Another partnership provides employers with the talent they need on a “try-before-you-buy” basis. Another partner, Revature, provides free customized training for tech talent in partnership with universities like CUNY, then hires graduates and staffs them out.
Bridgewater State University (BSU), President Fred Clark said BSU’s focus on internships has taken on special significance at a time when graduates need to be adaptable enough to change careers. With large numbers of students being low-income or first-generation, many couldn’t afford to do internships, so BSU worked hard to fund paid internships while creating an internship office with full services such as helping students “dress for success.”
In Waltham, Bentley University’s Career Communities program helps students make connections between their majors and the kind of jobs they’d like to explore. The program connects students with alumni and employers who offer a candid glimpse of their workdays and careers. At Endicott College in Beverly, MA, all students complete three distinct internships over the course of four years, including a semester-long internship.
At Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley, MA, the Nexus program allows students to choose among nine pre-professional tracks in fields such as data science and work with an adviser to create an individualized plan. The goal is to supplement the liberal arts degree, not replace it. Fixed courses provide students with professional development, internship preparation, and reflection on how to connect their education to their goals.
Bates College in Maine offers a Purposeful Work Initiative to incorporate career preparation with self-reflection in various programs. Each intern has at least one meaningful paid summer experience including internships, research opportunities, or community engagement while at Bates. The idea is to help students “discover the joy and power that arise from aligning who they are with what they do.”
At Eastern Connecticut State University—which enrolls about 30% students of color—lower-income, minority, and first-generation students often have no cars, so traveling off campus to internships is difficult. “White students were getting most of the internships,” said President Elsa Núñez. Eastern’s on-campus Work Hub eliminates that dilemma, allowing students to develop practical skills doing real-time work assignments without having to travel off campus. It also provides the insurance company, Cigna, with a computer network and facility where its staff could provide on-site guidance and support to Eastern student interns. Moreover, Núñez observed that the boss in Eastern’s internships automatically becomes the mentor.
No wonder WIL, including cooperative and internship-based learning, is a key component of the New England Commission on Higher Education & Employability, a regional effort organized by the New England Board of Higher Education (NEBHE) and chaired by Rhode Island Governor, Gina Raimondo. The Commission comprises representatives from higher education in all New England states, along with regional employers and public officials. The Commission’s purpose is to inspire and enable a regional approach to employability—the ability to land and keep a satisfying job.