Kristina Johnson: Applied Learning Experiences Are Critical To Student Success

Jul 23, 2019

When I was in college, our professors encouraged us to find applied learning experiences. Whether it was getting an internship, doing research in a lab, studying abroad, or finding an apprenticeship, at that time it was simply an idea, and certainly far from a requirement. Regardless of the type of experience, these opportunities give students a chance to apply knowledge acquired in a classroom to real world situations.

Today, these experiences have become invaluable. And now, research suggests they translate into higher salaries. For instance, preliminary data from two of the state university of New York’s leading institutions show that internships in three fields led students to higher paying jobs—higher by a lot more than what they would have made without these experiences.

Additionally, using combined data from two New York State public institutions—Binghamton and Stony Brook universities—SUNY looked at the median wages for undergrads who had applied learning experiences compared to those who did not. They found that applied learning experiences had the greatest impact in three areas: business, information sciences, and the visual and performing arts.

More specifically, those who majored in business, management, and public administration and had experiential learning opportunities earned $8,000 more than those without that experience. In the visual and performing arts, as well as communications technologies, these experiences made a $16,000 difference in salaries. In mathematics and computer and information sciences, the difference was nearly $23,000. In short, experience counts—in more ways than one.

While these data are preliminary, SUNY continues to study the impact of applied learning experiences on students at other campuses and in other fields. We do know one thing is for sure though: learning is more effective if we can take what we learn in the classroom and apply it in a real world setting, and that’s why SUNY puts a premium on these experiences. As a result, throughout our 64 campuses, our students are pursuing applied learning. In the 2017-2018 academic year, nearly a quarter of all SUNY students were enrolled in at least one applied learning course, and 40 percent of our programs actually require experiential learning.

Our technology campuses are especially strong in this area, with nearly 45 percent of all students enrolled in experiential courses. For example, SUNY Cobleskill, Farmingdale State College, and SUNY Morrisville have made applied learning a requirement. Students at these campuses must engage in internships, practicums, field experiences, laboratory work, and capstone design courses that have research components. Other technical and comprehensive colleges also put an emphasis on applied learning. And at our community colleges, we have partnerships with local companies to create workforce opportunities in fields ranging from advanced manufacturing to clean energy.

While many fields associated with applied learning are often technical, it’s important that we not neglect the humanities and liberal arts. Students majoring in English, history, and psychology benefit from applied learning experiences as much as those in business, computer sciences, and the arts. English students gain experience from working in a communications office, psychology students learn by spending time in a mental health clinic or research lab, and history students might apply what they learn by working in museums, and curating creative works.

At SUNY, we are proud of our efforts to promote experiential learning, especially since it pertains to a cornerstone of my vision: to give every student an individualized educational experience that is uniquely theirs, and that matches their goals and aligns with their passions.

As anyone who has ever had an internship or apprenticeship can tell you, the real world is often the best classroom of all. That’s why we encourage all employers to reach out to our campuses and provide opportunities that will build student skills, because SUNY students are ready and waiting to come learn from you. 

Kristina Johnson is the 13th Chancellor of the State University of New York, the nation’s largest comprehensive system of higher education.

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