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A wide range of experiences prepare students for success beyond the completion of their college degree. The evidence for the value of interning on students’ future careers is strong. The Harvard Project on Workforce, in a comprehensive review of more than 530 academic papers addressing the transition between college and work, cites internships as one of the few examples where there is a substantial body of supporting research and high implementation and feasibility.1David Deming, Joseph B. Fuller, Rachel Lipson, et al. (April 2023). Delivering on the Degree: The College-to-Jobs Playbook. Published by Harvard Kennedy School.
In our own prior research, we found strong associations between work-based learning generally — and paid internships specifically — and positive individual outcomes in the labor market after graduation. By controlling for differences associated with students’ gender, race and ethnicity, and field of study, we found that a year after graduation those who had completed a paid internship during their undergraduate education were earning $3,000 more than their non-internship participating peers. 2Torpey-Saboe, Nichole, Elaine W. Leigh, and Dave Clayton. “The power of work-based learning.” Strada Education Foundation. (2022). https://stradaeducation.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/03/031522-PV-report.pdf A related examination found that among graduates from the past 20 years, those who “participate[d] in work-based learning, such as an internship or apprenticeship” are significantly more likely to be satisfied with their careers, report higher annual income, believe their education was worth the cost, and believe their education helped them achieve their goals.3Torpey-Saboe, Nichole, Elaine W. Leigh, and Dave Clayton. “The power of work-based learning.” Strada Education Foundation. (2022). https://stradaeducation.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/03/031522-PV-report.pdf
Researchers define internships4Christensen, K. (2009). The Benefits of Internships. Harvard Business Review, 87(2), 120-123. as temporary opportunities that allow students, recent graduates and others to gain practical hands-on skills and work experience and build professional networks. While there are no set timeframes for participating in an internship, participation can vary depending on a number of factors such as supply of internships, student’s course load and future career goals. In an era in which more and more people are questioning the value of a college degree, our previous findings on internships point to the power of work-based learning experiences in promoting successful college-to-career outcomes.
Notably, according to our analysis of the Baccalaureate and Beyond survey by the National Center for Education Statistics, only 1 in 3 bachelor’s degree holders participated in a paid internship. Furthermore, while paid internships are not evenly distributed across fields of study, even when controlling for this factor, women and Black men are significantly less likely to complete one.5Torpey-Saboe, Nichole, Elaine W. Leigh, and Dave Clayton. “The power of work-based learning.” Strada Education Foundation. (2022). https://stradaeducation.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/03/031522-PV-report.pdf
This current study examines how many first-year students expect to complete an internship, compared to how many seniors report having done so. Are the relatively modest levels of internship completion symptomatic of low student interest, or is demand high and supply is scarce? Using data from the 2022 National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) Career and Workforce Preparation Topical Module6The data collected via the CWP module are associated with the NSSE and Strada partnership. NSSE is an assessment and research project at the Indiana University Center for Postsecondary Research. (n=59,807), we examine first-year and senior students’ interest in and participation in work-based learning, respectively. This includes activities such as internships, co-ops, field experience, student teaching, or clinical placement7The current iteration of the NSSE survey collects details of interest and participation and not remuneration details if participants indicate participation in ‘internships, co-ops, field experience, student teaching, or clinical placement.’. (We refer to these activities as “internships” moving forward.) Specifically, we explore whether first-year students have the intention of participating in internships and whether seniors have participated, examining the alignment between planned and completed activities.
Importantly, these are cross-sectional national data examining two separate student cohorts simultaneously rather than tracking one cohort over time. In addition, this large sample size is not representative of first-year and senior students across the nation. Individual institutions voluntarily elect to invite their students to complete this survey and a list of the 105 who surveyed their students in 2022 is found in an appendix to this report.
Seventy percent of first-year students expect to have internship experiences, yet fewer than half of seniors report that they have had one.
Interest and participation in internships varies by field of study, yet substantial gaps between interest and participation levels exist across all fields. The largest gap between intent and participation was found in the Social Sciences, Business, Social Service Professions, and Arts and Humanities disciplines.
Internship completion varies significantly across racial and ethnic groups. At least two-thirds of first-year Asian, Black/African American, Latino/Hispanic, Multiracial and white students expect to participate in an internship. However, Black/African American and Latino/Hispanic seniors are significantly less likely to report having participated in an internship. This pattern holds when controlling for field of study, parental education/first-generation status, and student age.
Senior students who participated in internships are more confident in their ability to communicate their skills and experiences to potential employers than those who have not participated in internships.
Most first-year students (70%), expect to participate in internships.8First-year and senior students were asked the following question: Which of the following have you done while in college or do you plan to do before you graduate? [Participate in an internship, co-op, field experience, student teaching, or clinical placement.] The response options were: Done or in progress, Plan to do, Do not plan to do, Have not decided. First-year students who reported that they “plan to do” an internship or that it was “done or in progress” are coded as intending to do an internship. Seniors who reported that they were “done or in progress” were coded as having participated. In this cross-sectional data set however, participation by those who are seniors is much lower. Forty-eight percent of seniors report having participated in (or are in the process of completing) an internship. (See Fig. 1).
By gender9We use the variable ‘genderidcomb’ which is a version of the ‘genderid’ variable that imputes ‘IRsex19’ variable for missing ‘genderid’ responses. Responses are captured as 1= Man/Male, 2= Woman/Female, 3=Another Gender Identity and 9 =I prefer not to respond/Unknown (dropped)., first-year women have the highest (72%) intent to participate in internships when compared to others. Participation by senior year is similar among all reporting groups and highest among those who report as Another Gender Identity (55%). (See Fig. 2). This differs from our previous study finding about participation in paid internships, where men tend to be overrepresented. The more expansive definition of internships in the NSSE survey includes both paid and unpaidinternships, clinicals and practicums — encompassing experiences such as student-teaching and nursing clinicals – fields in which enrollment is higher among women than men.
While expectations about participating in internships were similar across race and ethnicity, Black or African American students (36%) and Hispanic/Latino students (39%) report the lowest participation in internships (See Fig. 3), consistent with the findings in our prior research where we see participation in paid internships is lower for Black and Latino students compared to white or Asian students.10Torpey-Saboe, Nichole, Elaine W. Leigh, and Dave Clayton. “The power of work-based learning.” Strada Education Foundation. (2022). https://stradaeducation.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/03/031522-PV-report.pdf
Note: All calculations for intent versus participation were made with first-year and senior cohorts from the same year and data are cross-sectional. This view is filtered by groups that have adequate sample size. Given the low responses, American Indian or Alaska Native, Middle Eastern or North African, Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander participants were removed from this view.
First-generation first-year students report lower (67% vs 72%) intention to participate in internships when compared to first-year students who are not of first-generation status. Similarly, by senior-year participation in internships is lower (41% vs 55%) among first-generation students. The difference between the two groups in participation rates (14%) is nearly three times the difference in interest levels (5%). (See Fig. 4).
When disaggregated by field of study, first-year students in the Arts and Humanities report the lowest level of expectation to participate in internships (63%), while Engineering students have the highest expectations of participation (77%). Even though the Arts and Humanities are typically not associated with internships, it is important to note that almost two-thirds of students still expect to participate in internships.
Seniors in the Arts and Humanities (42%), Social Sciences (42%) and Business (42%) have the lowest participation in internships when compared to other fields of study. The field of Education is one exception, where there is high intent to participate (76% for first-year students) and high participation among seniors (71%). However, this observation could be due to the internship participation question including ‘teaching or clinical experience’ as part of the question, as these are routinely requirements for graduation among Education majors. The only other field of study with an interest-participation gap less than 20 percentage points is for Communications, Media, Public Relations (15%). A key takeaway is that while first-year students’ intent to participate in internships remains high regardless of field of study, levels of participation remain far lower than expectations (See Fig. 5). The gap between intent to participate in internships and by senior-year participation is provided in Figure 5.1.
Is the disparity between first-year intent and by senior-year participation reflective of students who were unable to access experiences that they desired, or is it reflective of growing interest in internships and other forms of work-based learning for 2022 first-year students compared to prior years? Figure 6 shows student responses about internship expectations and participation over the past decade. Notably, there is a slight erosion in both of these over time. This suggests that the gap between intent and participation is not an artifact of rising interest among first-year students that has not yet been reflected in the participation of seniors in the cross-sectional survey.11National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) core survey internship results, 2013-2022, retrieved from nsse.indiana.edu”
2022 numbers in Figure 5 are of all NSSE institutions, rather than only those participating in the Career and Workforce Preparation module and so differ slightly from the population examined in the rest of this report. Historical data on the career and workforce module participants is only available from 2021 and 2022.
Can the demographic differences we see be explained by the differences across fields of study? To simultaneously account for the multiple variables most closely associated with intent to participate in internships and participation in internships, we ran a series of statistical models to control for field of study, race/ethnicity, first-generation status/parent(s) level of education12Our survey asks “What is the highest level of education completed by either of your parents (or those who raised you)?” with options: 1=Did not finish high school; 2=High school diploma/G.E.D; 3=Attended college but did not complete degree; 4=Associate’s degree (A.A., A.S., etc.); 5=Bachelor’s degree (B.A., B.S., etc.);6=Master’s degree (M.A., M.S., etc.) and 7=Doctoral or professional degree (Ph.D., J.D., M.D., etc.). We use this item for parent’s level of education. A student is coded as a first-generation student if their parents’ highest level of education is an associate degree or lower., and age.13As intent to participate and participation are both coded as binary variables, we employ logistic regression models to obtain a predicted probability of intending to participate and a predicted probability of participating. We also use interaction terms for race/ethnicity and field of study, as we hypothesize that the relationship between field of study and internship outcomes may differ by race. Tables 1 through 3 depict the predicted probabilities of intent, participation, and the gap between the two by race and field of study, holding other variables constant. We find that after controlling for these variables, Asian and Black/African American first-year students have higher predicted probabilities of intention to participate in internships when compared with all other first-year students (See Table 114Table 1 provides predicted probabilities from our statistical model that controls for variables field of study, race/ethnicity, first-generation status/parent(s) level of education#, and age), and Black/African American and Hispanic or Latino seniors have the lowest predicted probabilities of participation in internships when compared with all other senior students. This means that seniors who are in either of these racial groups are disproportionately underrepresented with internship participation. (See Table 2).
Table 3 describes the difference in predicted probability of first-year students’ intention to participate in internships and participation by senior year. Black/African American students have the biggest gaps between intent and participation in five out of 10 disciplines. Asian students have the largest gaps between intent and participation in four out of 10 disciplines. This means that while there is an overall mismatch between intent to participate and participation by senior year in internships, Black/African American students face disproportionate challenges in accessing internship opportunities in Business, Engineering and Health Professions fields.
Prior research has found links between internship participation and stronger post-completion employment outcomes. In this data, we also find that internship participation is associated with students’ stronger feelings of confidence about communicating their knowledge, skills, and experience to potential employers. Overall, 80 percent of seniors who participated in an internship reported their confidence in communicating their knowledge, skills, and experiences to potential employers as “very much” or “quite a bit,” compared with 68 percent of seniors who did not participate in an internship (See Fig. 7).
While all seniors who participated in internships report higher confidence to communicate their skills and experiences with potential employers when compared with seniors who have not participated in internships, Asian students see the highest gain in their level of confidence to communicate with potential employers given their participation in internships (See Fig. 8).
Note: Participants were asked how confident they are to communicate their skills and experiences with potential employers (with options: 1=Not at all, 2=Very Little, 3 Some, 4=Quite a bit, 5=Very much). This chart compares the percent of those who reported “Quite a bit” and “Very Much” for this question. This view is filtered by race and internship participation for seniors.
We highlight two main findings from this initial exploration. First, a majority of first-year students expect to complete an internship. There is a strong foundation of student interest and motivation to engage in internships, co-ops, field experience, student teaching, or clinical placement experiences. We found that regardless of field of study, race/ethnicity, gender, and first-generation status, first-year students reported high intent to participate in these activities.
Second, there is a gap between first-year students’ intent and seniors’ participation in internships. In the current sample, just less than half of seniors report they have participated in an internship, compared to 70 percent of first-year students expecting they will. Furthermore, consistent with our prior research, Black or African American and Hispanic or Latino students are significantly less likely to have participated in an internship.
Given these findings, we encourage institutions to analyze internship participation data specific to their campus to explore ways to expand access to internships, including placing special attention on addressing gaps in internship access.
From our study, we see wide variation by institution. On average, interest among first-year students is 70 percent and by senior-year participation in internships is 48 percent (difference = 22%). When we analyzed each institution individually, the first-year intent to participate ranges from 46 percent (n=366) to 90 percent (n=41) and by senior-year participation in internships ranges from 10 percent (n=591) to 95 percent (n=60). A total of 17 institutions have a negative gap, where by senior-year participation exceeded first-year intent to participate in internships. A total of 85 institutions have gaps that are below the mean of 22 percent and 23 institutions are above the mean of 22 percent.15Given that institutions are masked, we note here that our study includes a total of 105 US institutions and 2 additional institutions are a part of the larger sample that includes other institutions excluded from the larger analysis of this study per NSSE guidelines.
Prior cross-sectional research from the Center for Research on College Workforce Transitions at the University of Wisconsin found that some of the top reasons students cite for not being able to participate in internships are being unsure how to find an internship, having too heavy a course load to participate, or needing to work at a different job.16Hora, Matthew T., Colston, Jared, Chen, Zhidong, and Alexandra Pasqualone. “National Survey of College Internships (NSCI) 2021 Report: Insights into the prevalence, quality, and equitable access to internships in higher education.” Wisconsin Center for Education Research (2021). This exploratory study from CCWT looked at data from a cohort of participating institutions. Relatedly, Strada research from the NSSE Career and Workforce Preparation module also found evidence of trade-offs between work and internships: first-generation seniors were much more likely than their continuing-generation counterparts to be working more than 20 hours per week and less likely to participate in internships.17Lee, Elaine W. (December 2021). Understanding Undergraduates’ Career Preparation Experiences. Strada Education Foundation. https://stradaeducation.org/report/pv-release-dec-8-2021/#internships. We have initiated research to examine these questions with a nationally representative sample to determine the strategies that are most likely to increase access for students wishing to pursue an internship and understand gaps in participation, particularly in students from underrepresented populations.
Our current and previous findings show that student interest in internships — broadly defined — is high and outcomes for those who participate in paid internships are strong. Further exploration to understand the differences between paid and unpaid experiences is important as are additional insights into the barriers students encounter in securing and completing quality internships. Longitudinal data following students through their undergraduate experiences would clarify who wanted internships and who participated in them, providing insight into both challenges and solutions that support students in their development and preparation for careers.
The Career and Workforce Preparation Topical Module of the National Survey of Student Engagement was administered by NSSE in collaboration with Strada Education Foundation between February and May, 2022. A total of 59,807 college and university students from 105 U.S. institutions responded to the survey. Of those who responded to the survey, 67 percent (39,252) are women, 31 percent (18,655) are men and 1.4 percent (890) are Another Gender Identity.18We use the variable ‘genderidcomb’ which is a version of the ‘genderid’ variable that imputes ‘IRsex19’ variable for missing ‘genderid’ responses. Responses are captured as 1= Man/Male, 2= Woman/Female, 3=Another Gender Identity and 9 =I prefer not to respond/Unknown (dropped). About 2 in 3 (68%) are between the ages of 18-22. By race (See Fig. 9), 61 percent of our sample are white, 19 percent are Hispanic/Latino and 10 percent are Black or African American.
Note: We use institution-reported race categories 1=American Indian or Alaska Native (dropped); 2=Asian, 3=Black or African American, 4=Hispanic or Latino, 5=Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander (dropped), 6=White, 7=Other, 8=Foreign or Nonresident (dropped), 9=Two or more races/ethnicities, 10=Unknown (dropped). All dropped categories had too small of a sample sample size for the analysis in this report. Foreign or Nonresident participants were dropped given that the research questions for this report examine domestic student experiences.
Our sample includes 14 percent Very Small (fewer than 1,000 students), 40 percent Small (1,000-2,500 students), 18 percent Medium (2,500-4,999 students), 11 percent Large (5,000-9,999 students), and 16 percent Very Large (10,000 or more) institutions. A total of 64 percent private and 36 percent public institutions participated in this survey (See Fig. 10).
Note: Figure 12 includes participants from the sample who responded to the survey question about their parents’ highest level of education, which was used to recode for first-generation status.
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A wide range of experiences prepare students for success beyond the completion of their college degree. The evidence for the value of interning on students' future careers is strong.
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Disparities in securing paid internships persist for women, people of color, first-generation college students, and students with low incomes — even when taking into account their fields of study