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Internships Help Community College Grads' Job Prospects

Internships Help Community College Grads' Job Prospects

by Ashley Artrip and Zac Auter
Chart: data points are described in article

Story Highlights

  • 20% of two-year graduates had a job/internship related to their studies
  • 40% of graduates with relevant internships found a good job quickly

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Forty percent of recent associate degree graduates who had a relevant job or internship while in school had a good job waiting for them after graduation. By comparison, only 16% of those with a job or internship that was not relevant to their field of study had a good job waiting for them. Those without a job or internship fared worst of all, with only 6% saying they had a good job upon graduation.

Job/Internship Experiences and Workforce Outcomes, Among Associate Degree Holders
No job/internship Had job/internship but not strongly degree-related Had job/internship that was strongly degree-related
% % %
I had a job waiting for me when I graduated 6 16 40
My job is completely related to field of study 28 29 63
Gallup-Strada Associate Degree Database

These data come from the Gallup-Strada Associate Degree Graduate Study of 2,548 U.S. adults who said an associate degree was their highest level of education. The study found that overall, 20% of two-year graduates strongly agree that they had a job or internship relevant to their studies during school, while 52% disagree or strongly disagree.

Among those who were pursuing a job after graduation, the value of a job-relevant internship is made clear when one considers that about as many associate degree holders who graduated since 2010 say it took more than a year to find a good job (32%) as say they had one waiting after graduation (33%). And getting a job, according to Gallup research, is a primary motivating factor in students' decision to attend college to begin with.


Grads With Relevant Internship Experiences Have Positive Workforce Outcomes

Nearly two-thirds of two-year-degree graduates who strongly agreed they had a relevant internship or job during school say their current job is completely related to their academic program. By comparison, fewer than three in 10 graduates who had a job or internship during school that was not relevant to their studies are now in jobs related to their field of study -- a percentage almost identical to the one for those who had no job or internship at all.

Importantly, graduates in jobs that are related to what they studied in school are much more likely than others to be engaged at work, a clear benefit to their employers. About half (49%) of two-year-degree graduates who have jobs related to their field of study are now engaged at work, compared with 19% of graduates with jobs unrelated to their field of study. Gallup has consistently found that companies with engaged employees see lower absenteeism, higher productivity and more profit. In the U.S. more broadly, about 33% of the workforce is engaged at work.

Workplace Engagement According to How Closely School Job/Internship Was Related to Field of Study
Based on employed associate degree holders who had a job or internship during school
Completely related Somewhat related Not at all related
% % %
Engaged at work 49 40 19
Gallup-Strada Associate Degree Database

Bottom Line

About two-thirds of community college students work during college to pay for school, but these work experiences may not bolster their employment outlook after graduation if the work they do in college is unrelated to their current studies. One of Gallup's key findings from decades of global research is that having a good job is a universal desire. College students are no different, as they consistently say that getting a job is a top reason for pursuing higher education.

Two-year colleges should consider the value of an increased emphasis on internships for their students as a supplement to their academic curriculum. By focusing more on internships, community colleges can prime their graduates to obtain good jobs related to their field of study upon graduation. While some community and technical colleges provide extremely robust workforce opportunities for students, the vast majority of students leave two-year programs without crucial experiential learning opportunities that benefit both the student and the workforce.

Survey Methods

The study was conducted March 19-May 11, 2015, with a random sample of 2,548 individuals with an associate degree as their highest level of education, aged 18 and older, with internet access, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. All reported margins of sampling error include the computed design effects for weighting.

For results based on the total sample of those with an associate degree, the margin of sampling error is ±3 percentage points at the 95% confidence level.

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