Students With Poor Grades May Benefit the Most From Internships

Report: “The Differential Effects of Internship Participation on End-of-Fourth-Year GPA by Demographic and Institutional Characteristics”

Authors: Cindy A. Kilgo, Eugene T. Parker III, Jessica K. Ezell Sheets, doctoral students in higher education and student affairs; and Ernest T. Pascarella, professor of higher education, all at the University of Iowa

Summary: Past studies have concluded that internships foster engagement and learning by college students, bolstering their academic achievement long after having offered them workplace experience. In a study scheduled to be discussed this month in Washington, D.C., at the annual conference of the Association for the Study of Higher Education, four researchers at the University of Iowa set out to examine whether some segments of the student population benefit academically from internships more than others do. They took data on about 3,300 college students gathered as part of the Wabash National Study of Liberal Arts Education, which tracked students at 44 widely varying colleges over time, and used regression analysis to examine the relationship between internship participation and long-term changes in grade-point average.

The researchers’ most striking finding was that the lower students’ GPAs were at the end of their first year of college, the larger were the increases in their GPAs by the end of their fourth year as an apparent result of internship involvement.

On the whole, the researchers found internship involvement to be correlated with GPA increases, and did not find any variations in such increases associated with race or ethnicity. Their sample sizes for institutions with special missions, like historically black or women’s colleges, were too small for them to confidently observe whether the internship-associated GPA changes of students at such institutions were higher or lower than those of the overall population studied.

Bottom Line: Colleges that restrict internship involvement to students with GPAs above certain thresholds might be denying opportunities to the students who are the most likely to benefit academically from them.

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