Thursday, June 29, 2006

Internships and haughty academics 

I may have found something SCSU is "ahead of the curve" on. Most universities do not give college credit for internships, arguing that you only get academic credit for academic work (and by implication, academic work means stuff academics give you to do or read). But some firms are now refusing to take unpaid interns unless those students are receiving college credit, says the Wall Street Journal (subscriber link).
Employment lawyers say there has been a burst of lawsuits in recent years related to the Fair Labor Standards Act, which regulates wages and overtime. The number of FLSA collective-action suits filed nationwide almost tripled to 1,076 in 2004, from 397 three years earlier, according to an analysis by Allan Weitzman, who heads the employment-law practice for Proskauer Rose LLP in Boca Raton, Fla. Such suits largely center on issues of overtime pay, he says. But the increase may be leading employers to be more careful in general about their work forces, including making sure their internships are clearly defined and not exploitive.

One of the factors the Labor Department uses to define an unpaid "trainee," or intern, is that the experience is for the benefit of the student. Receiving credit for the experience helps satisfy that requirement, says Mr. Weitzman.

We're different in two ways. There may be some departments at SCSU that do not want their interns to be paid, but it's a minority. Most of our interns are. Second, we have a university number that creates internship credits for any department that wants to run an internship program. Students pay, but since our credits are about $200 each including student activity fees, there's minimal squawking. Students and the internship director can set the number of credits where they like, as long as the student's willing to pay. There's guidance that relates credits to hours worked, so that you can't work five hours a week and get twelve internship credits, but you can work forty hours, paid, per week and pay for anywhere from one to twelve credits. Students are graded based on a journal and paper -- many times, directors in programs will call or even visit the internship site. My sister does this in her culinary program all the time, though that's much different than the internships we're discussing here. But her program for a two-year certificate isn't that different from what an intern in a university's social work program would look like.

Many schools are now moving to something like what we have. But others insist that the "credit" earned at the school does not count towards graduation -- even if the student pays for it. My question is this: Why would universities view work experience that applies to their major not count as "academic work"? Are we just being haughty?