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September 17, 2014

Editorial: Statistics support the Northeastern model

If there is one thing that truly sets Northeastern apart from other schools, it is probably the university’s storied co-op program. For nearly the entirety of the school’s history, this innovative focus on experiential learning has come to define Northeastern, and foster countless opportunities for its students. Now, a new study is providing empirical support for giving student paid job experience.

The study, from the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE), found that paid internships provide a significant boost to students’ job prospects, whereas unpaid internships appear to provide students with no advantage whatsoever. Since, according to Northeastern spokeswoman Renata Nyul, almost 90 percent of co-ops offered through Northeastern are paid, these new findings make the advantages of a Northeastern-type co-op program abundantly clear.

The NACE found 63.1 percent of students who held paid internships and began applying to jobs before graduation had an offer by the time they got their diploma, compared with 37 percent of students who held unpaid internships and 35.2 percent of students with no internships. The study, which held up when controlling for both GPA and major (with the exception of psychology), found similar results regarding starting salary:  Students who held paid internships averaged $51,930 at the outset, whereas students with unpaid internships netted only $35,721, less than even the $37,087 averaged by students with no internship experience. The study did not point towards a cause for these differences.

Of course, while these numbers are a testament to the wisdom and success of the paid co-ops Northeastern offers, they should also be viewed as a warning. Given the results of this study, students may want to think twice before taking six months off from classes for an unpaid co-op, which, if these numbers are correct, will not help advance future job prospects. It should be conceded that there are many reasons to take an internship aside from resume building, such as exploring potential career fields, but even so, to pass on an apparently advantageous paid co-op may be to squander the golden opportunity presented to Northeastern students.

This discussion may soon be moot, however. A federal judge in New York ruled last month that Fox Searchlight Pictures violated minimum wage laws by not paying two interns who worked on the movie “Black Swan.” The judge’s decision says employers must follow US Department of labor guidelines when employing unpaid interns, which places a very heavy burden on the employer. One such guideline stipulates, “The employer that provides the training derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the intern.” As this seems to take away any motivation for companies to continue to hire unpaid interns, it seems as if they will soon go the way of football at Northeastern. But fear not, for paid Northeastern co-ops will surely step in to fill the void.

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