But a few colleges have benefited from the shift in values. “Colleges like Northeastern and Drexel are really coming up in the world because they offer co-op programs,” where students spend several semesters in full-time jobs related to their studies, usually with pay, Rubenstone noted.

In the last six years, Northeastern University’s ranking on U.S. News & World Report’s college survey has soared from 98 to 56. And even though Northeastern’s tuition now tops $40,000 a year, applications have increased more than 40 percent since 2009, while SAT scores of incoming students have steadily risen.

Spokeswoman Renata Nyul says Northeastern’s co-op program is a “huge reason” for its popularity. “Our mission is to provide a real-world experience and an education that’s rooted in the integration of rigorous classroom learning and real-world professional experience,” she said. “That’s been the ethos of this place for a long time, but lately is seems to really resonate.”

Co-ops can also pave the way for permanent employment, Nyul says: “Ninety percent of our graduates are employed full-time and 87 percent are doing something related to what they majored in.”