New report finds internships, selection of majors play powerful roles in post-college careers of BPS grads

Boston – A new report on the post-college first jobs of Boston Public Schools alumni and others at seven Massachusetts public four-year universities finds that a substantial share of graduates are failing to land a good first job and that a student’s selection of majors and access to internships play a critical role in their future success.

The report, entitled Mobilizing for Opportunity: Connecting Low-Income College Students to Internships and Good First Jobs, was released in an online forum hosted by the Boston Foundation today. It was authored by researchers from the Boston Private Industry Council, Burning Glass Technologies and NextGen Talent, who used data from several sources to capture how BPS graduates and other students fared in their first jobs after college.

“This report creatively combines data from numerous sources to demonstrate the power that advising and career supports, as well as opportunities for internship experiences, play in connecting college graduates with good first jobs,” said Paul S. Grogan, President and CEO of the Boston Foundation. “At a time when businesses are focused on diversity and equity, expanding opportunities for interns and supporting the career paths of today’s students are a powerful opportunity.”

The study team used data from national datasets and Boston Public Schools, survey data from Bottom Line, a college access and success organization that works with BPS graduates, and social profile data from sites such as Facebook and LinkedIn provided by digital labor-market research firm Burning Glass Technologies in compiling the report. It focuses on seven Massachusetts four-year universities: UMass-Amherst, -Boston, -Lowell and -Dartmouth, and Bridgewater, Framingham and Salem State Universities. Together the data sets provide a more informed understanding of the college-to-career paths of Boston Public Schools graduates.

Major selection creates major differences in job quality, first-year earnings

National data shows that about 40% of four-year college graduates fail to land jobs requiring a BA in their first year out of college. At the overall level, 32% of graduates of the seven state universities studied were unemployed or in jobs requiring less than a BA degree in the year after college graduation. The differences between individual campuses in that regard were relatively small. However, differences between majors were much sharper: while 94% of nursing graduates found “good jobs” (requiring a bachelor’s degree), just 44% of criminal justice majors did.

First-year annual earnings also varied widely across majors: graduates in nursing, computer and information sciences, and engineering all had a first-year median wage over $60,000. On the other end of the spectrum, social sciences, education, psychology, humanities and visual and performing arts majors had median wages of $35,000 or less. Visual and performing arts grads had the lowest median, at just $27,000 annually.

For Boston area public school graduates from lower-income households, the data show that these grads, on average, earned less than their middle-class peers in their first full-time job out of college. Salary data for low-income grads who completed college in 2018, provided by Bottom Line, a Boston-based college access and success services provider, found those students’ average first-year earnings were  $44,849. That is 20% lower than the average starting salary of all New England graduates working full-time.

The study team also examined the fields of study of students who graduated between 2011 and 2013 from BPS non-exam schools and the O’Bryant School of Mathematics and Science, which together serve the vast majority of low-income BPS students. Tracking those students’ majors in college, the study team found BPS graduates were more likely to major in lower-earning fields. Sixty percent chose majors, such as psychology, criminal justice and social sciences, that earned below the median first-year wage for all graduates, $42,013 per year. Just 14 percent majored in the highest-earning areas – accounting and finance, engineering, computer and information services, and nursing.

“The selection of a college major is an important investment decision. Most students know that certain majors pay more, but probably do not fully understand the magnitude of these earnings differences and the financial implications of their career paths,” said Joseph McLaughlin, Director of Research and Strategy, Boston Private Industry Council, who co-authored the research.

Internships are a stepping stone – for those who can get them

A more significant correlation was seen between students who completed at least one internship in their field and their ability to achieve a BA-level job. Most majors showed a 10 to 12 percentage point benefit from internship experience, ranging from 22 points for visual and performing arts majors to six points for business majors. The difference was especially notable for some liberal arts or natural science majors, who have a more challenging time finding BA-level jobs. 

Internship availability, however, varied widely by field and institution – in all, just 40 percent of students studied were able to participate in an internship during their college careers – from more than half at UMass-Amherst to fewer than 1-in-4 at UMass-Boston and Salem State University. Commuter students at these campuses, too, may have limited access to internships that might conflict with part-time or full-time jobs, lack of transportation, or other issues. 

The lack of internship availability parallels a gap in intensive, multi-year services for students provided by organizations like Bottom Line and Thrive (formerly SCS Noonan) Scholars. The report estimates 1,301 students from BPS non-exam and charter schools would benefit from career and other services as they enter Massachusetts 4-year colleges and universities in 2023 – but only about 550 will find places.

“Students – low-income and first-generation especially – need information that can help them get more value in the labor market out of their educational investment. They also need internship experiences and job placement support,” said report co-author Susan Goldberger, Senior Product Advisor at Burning Glass Technologies. “Together, these elements provide a route to that all-important good first job that these students need to succeed in the Boston economy.”

The study team interviewed college success organizations and university-based and industry-focused programs as part of the research. The report highlights several promising practices that could be scaled or replicated to broaden the availability of college success advising, increase employer engagement or strengthen internship capacity.


The report concludes by laying out six recommendations for improving access to BA-level jobs post-graduation, particularly for low-income students – they are:

Continue to build out systems and capacity across sectors—in middle and high schools, higher education institutions, nonprofit organizations, and intermediaries—to help students understand the paths to securing a good first job aligned with their career interests.

Create more opportunities for liberal arts majors to acquire and demonstrate career-relevant skills, so that they can successfully compete for internships and BA-level employment after college.

Explore strategies to efficiently scale career coaching and internship/job placement services to Boston’s college students from low-income backgrounds, including those served by college success organizations that do not provide this component.

Mobilize corporate leaders and industry associations to create more internship programs that specifically recruit students of color and students from low-income backgrounds as a means to redress inequities in employment.

Expand participation of students from low-income backgrounds and students of color in existing large-scale internship programs.

Support development of varied work and- learning models to address the needs of commuter students from low-income backgrounds.

Read and download the full report here.