Researchers at Rutgers University and the City University of New York suggest working students pick up skills and make contacts that give them advantages over peers with only academic accomplishments and unpaid internships in their backgrounds.
The study of more than 160,000 students at a public university found those who worked while going to school averaged post-college earnings up to $20,000 higher than classmates who did not work in college. The Education and Employment Research Center at the Rutgers School of Management and Labor Relations published the study.
“A majority of today’s undergraduates are working, and we wanted to know how that impacts their earnings after college,” said co-author Daniel Douglas, a senior researcher at Rutgers and visiting assistant professor of educational studies at Trinity College. “What we found was a remarkably consistent result. Working students appear to benefit from the experience, even if they do not complete a degree. We tried numerous ways of measuring work during college and post-college earnings, and we tried different statistical methods of addressing ‘selection bias.’ But in every case, the general pattern was the same.”
Researchers analyzed transcripts and earnings data for students who enrolled in a large public university between fall 1999 and fall 2008. Accounting for age, gender, race, college major, grade point average, work history and other variables, they found that students who worked for pay during college averaged higher earnings for up to 15 years after leaving school.
Working students pursuing an associate degree and earning between $5,000 and $15,000 in their first year of college saw an average, post-college earnings bump of $4,532.
The post-college premium existed for women and men; racial and ethnic minorities; students in the university’s community colleges and four-year schools; and students without prior work experience.
Researchers suggest such employment produces three benefits: work experience; a resume that signals a job applicant’s promise; and well-developed social networks.