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From Theory to Practice: Field Experimental Evidence on Early Exposure of Engineering Majors to Professional Work

Kevin J. Boudreau, Matt Marx

NBER Working Paper No. 26013
Issued in June 2019
NBER Program(s):Economics of Education Program, Labor Studies Program, Productivity, Innovation, and Entrepreneurship Program

Young workers typically enter the professional labor market only after completing higher education. We investigate how earlier professional work experience affects skilled worker development. In a field experiment, 1,787 Engineering majors were randomly assigned to 6-month work terms to begin either in the second or third year of studies. Early exposure caused systematic differences in inclination to take Engineering elective courses, choice of major, and the probability of persisting in Engineering years later—consistent with engagement, retention, and sorting effects. Early exposure notably increased academic and professional outcomes of lower-income students.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w26013

 
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