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

See all articles by Kevin Boudreau

Kevin Boudreau

Northeastern University; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Matt Marx

Boston University Questrom School of Business

Date Written: October 22, 2018

Abstract

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

Boudreau, Kevin and Marx, Matt, The Transition From Higher Education to Professional Work: Evidence From Randomized Assignment of Engineering Majors (October 22, 2018). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3271144 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3271144

Kevin Boudreau (Contact Author)

Northeastern University ( email )

805 Columbus Ave, Interdisciplinary Sci & Eng Bldg
Huntington Ave
Boston, MA 02115
United States

HOME PAGE: http://www.kevinboudreau.com

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) ( email )

1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Matt Marx

Boston University Questrom School of Business ( email )

595 Commonwealth Ave
Boston, MA 02466
United States

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