The Transition From Higher Education to Professional Work: Evidence From Randomized Assignment of Engineering Majors
44 Pages Posted: 4 Nov 2018 Last revised: 12 Feb 2019
Date Written: October 22, 2018
Young people typically pursue decades in academic training before finally entering into the professional labor market. Does this (late) timing of exposure to the professional labor market come with tradeoffs? We investigate the causal effects of timing of first exposure to professional work experience on 2,243 undergraduates from a top-40 US Engineering program. Individuals were randomized as to whether they first engaged in their first 6-month full-time professional work term beginning in second vs. third year of the program. We find no evidence that the earlier exposure affects subsequent academic performance. However, in the short run, earlier work exposure leads to greater adjustments and re-sorting into different Engineering majors (and for some students to sort out of Engineering). In the longer run, earlier exposure led to greater persistence in the field in Engineering. In particular, it causes higher-quality students to be more likely to sort into Engineering graduate programs and to take jobs in Engineering. These effects do not appear to be driven so much by differential accumulation of human capital and skills or social capital and industry connections. Rather, earlier exposure appears to facilitate experimentation, learning, and adjustment in the labor market—before educational investments are fully sunk.
Keywords: Human capital, education, STEM, Engineering labor supply, labor
JEL Classification: J2, I21, I26, O3
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation