Should colleges charge for academic credit earned from unpaid internships

Should colleges charge for academic credit earned from unpaid internships?Internships have become an integral part of the college experience, with someschools requiring students to complete at least one internship before theygraduate into the working world, where employers increasingly are givingpreference to candidates with experience.Although students often appreciate the advantage that internships provide – andcan reap the benefits later as they seek employment – some are pushing backagainst the long-standing college practice of charging tuition for the creditsstudents earn through unpaid internships. Students at several schools arebeginning to allege publicly that colleges are profiting from their free labor,collecting money from families already stretched by the high cost of highereducation while being spared the expense of providing instruction.The conflict is emerging from a fundamental debate about the future of highereducation: Colleges increasingly are seeking to provide career-orientedopportunities for students, saying that internships are an invaluable part of theirprograms and require direct faculty supervision. Students say that paying towork is an outdated and unfair model, especially when they are poised tograduate with the heavy burden of student-loan debt.‘‘This is a huge ethical issue for universities that they are sneaking under therug,’’ said David Yamada, director of the New Workplace Institute at SuffolkUniversity Law School in Boston. ‘‘In this era of skyrocketing student debt, thefact that students are probably having to borrow money to do an internship forfree is appalling.’’Colleges generally make no distinction between internship programs and anyother courses that come with a tuition bill, saying that academic internshipsrequire costly faculty work.‘‘It would be great if we could provide academic supervision in a way that didn’tcost the institution anything, but there isn’t,’’ said Terry Hartle, senior vicepresident of the American Council on Education. ‘‘If faculty are involved,somebody has to pay for the cost of having them there. It is a financial issue.’’Joshua Siegel does not buy that argument. The Seton Hall University senior isamong a group of students petitioning the school in South Orange, New Jersey,to stop charging for internship credits.‘‘It’s unfortunate that the school, which is not providing the service, notfacilitating the process, not suffering any strain on its resources, feels it is owedcompensation for me performing a function on my own,’’ Siegel said.Despite having a summer internship at a charity, Siegel, 21, must completeothers sanctioned by the university to get his bachelor’s degree in diplomacy.Seton Hall officials say Siegel can opt out of the requirement by picking upanother class, but he says that option does nothing to resolve the underlyingproblem: a lack of money.To keep a handle on costs, Siegel has been taking 18 credits a semester sinceswitching his major from history to diplomacy. He figured that a full load ofclasses would help him avoid spending an extra year in school. But Siegel stillhas a three-credit internship hanging over his head, at a tuition cost of about$3,000.‘‘It’s an undue financial burden,’’ Siegel said. ‘‘Even if I opt out, I’m still payingmoney either way. I’ve taken all the classes in my major, so I’d have to just takeany class that fits in my schedule.’’Seton Hall officials say they understand that students are concerned about costsbut that the school must cover the expense of running internship courses.‘‘These courses are an extension of the classroom,’’ said Joan Guetti, seniorassociate provost at Seton Hall. ‘‘Faculty have to set up the internships, thehours, the assignments – papers, journal entries or presentations. There’s a lotmore to this than students see.’’Four majors at Seton Hall have internship requirements, and the requirement isunder consideration for several other majors, according to Reesa Greenwald,director of the school’s career center. Seton Hall students can avoid additionalcharges by taking the internship courses during the school year, when flat-ratetuition is charged. But that rate does not apply in the summer, an optimal timefor undertaking internships.Seton Hall is proud of integrating work experience into the curriculum, whichgives students an edge in the job market, Greenwald said. Eighty-eight percentof the students in the Class of 2015 were employed in fields related to theirmajors within six months of graduating, she said.‘‘Our goal is to help students find a satisfying career, a lucrative career, whenthey leave us,’’ Greenwald said.Anthony Carnevale, director and research professor at the GeorgetownUniversity Center on Education and the Workforce, said colleges are respondingto employers’ demands that graduates have ‘‘real-world’’ experience.Employers place a premium on graduates with internships on their résumés,according to the Georgetown center. Starting salaries for graduates with paidinternships average about $52,000, compared with $37,000 for those withoutinternship. Nearly two-thirds of college graduates who complete paid internshipsreceive job offers on graduation, compared with just 35 percent of recentgraduates who do not have internship experience.‘‘These things are like gold,’’ Carnevale said, adding that about 10 percent of thenation’s 20 million college students are able to secure internships during theircollege careers.College internships vary widely. Positions that pay are difficult to find, and someof the most prestigious posts, at nonprofit organizations and in governmentagencies, offer no compensation, presenting an extreme challenge for thosestudents who already have trouble paying for college.Carnevale and other higher-education advocates say one economical way to helpstudents who are in financial need to get work experience would be to turnfederal work-study jobs into subsidized internships. The Obama administrationconsidered the idea, but it failed to advance because colleges, which typicallyemploy federal work-study students on campus, declined to give up the low-wagelabor the federal program provides, Carnevale said.Academic credit has become a stand-in for pay and is a popular way for collegesto regulate internships.‘‘Having academic credit increases the value of the internship,’’ said Hartle, ofthe American Council on Education. ‘‘It means that somebody is trying to makesure the internship is a good, productive experience and that students are notjust [spending their time] filing papers.’’Offering credit for student work is mutually beneficial for companies anduniversities. Employers get free labor and can avoid liability insurance forstudents, and schools can promote their program’s connections to the workingworld.‘‘Touting internships for credit is one of the ways schools can at least claim to beproviding practical training as part of degree programs,’’ said SuffolkUniversity’s Yamada. ‘‘It’s not quite free money for the university . . . but it’s notcredit hours that have to be covered by classroom teaching.’’Cleveland State University graduate student Tim Russo said his school hasprovided no support for his internship, which he landed himself at a friend’s lawfirm.‘‘I feel like I’m getting exploited by the system,’’ said Russo, 48, who mustcomplete a three-credit internship to get his master’s degree in globalinteractions. ‘‘There’s no guidance, no guidelines, nothing.’’Russo questioned the internship requirement at a roundtable in December, andshortly afterward the school’s president said students could have theirinternships appear on official transcripts without receiving or paying for credits.The offer means little to Russo, who, like others with internship courserequirements, must find a replacement class to graduate.‘‘I want to finish, but I’m not paying tuition for this,’’ said Russo, who sat out thespring semester in protest. ‘‘We’re not human beings, just c
ash for theuniversity.’’Cleveland State Provost Jianping Zhu said the school is reviewing its courseofferings and examining whether there is adequate faculty involvement ininternship courses.‘‘Students need to feel that faculty mentors are interacting with them so they canlearn to integrate their internship experience with their studies in theclassroom,’’ Zhu said.More universities are similarly recognizing internships without offering, orcharging for, credit. Other schools are raising money to fund unpaid internshipsfor students in need, and some colleges are exploring programs that let studentssplit their time between classes and short-term work.At Seton Hall, Katherine Wolchko, a rising senior in the diplomacy program, hasresolved to keep fighting the school’s internship policy, even though she can optout.‘‘The practice is financially exploitative, deeply biased against socioeconomicallydisadvantaged students,’’ she said. ‘‘Students shouldn’t pay for a service that theschool doesn’t provide, and we shouldn’t have to pay for the privilege to work.’’

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