Internships should not require credit

Christina Coleburn, Opinion Editor

Summer internships are quickly drawing to a close. Colleges continually stress the importance of internships for post-graduation employment, a notion met with both consensus and criticism. From the legality of unpaid labor, limited workplace rights and barriers for lower-income students to the cost of financing internships and disparity in quality, structural shortcomings have raised controversy. Given that many universities allow internships for credit, NYU included, these issues now extend beyond outside outlets to college bursars. Universities should not charge students for internship credits, as the inevitable fluctuation in quality fosters a climate where students’ educational value can be compromised for universities’ financial profit.

Some students will return to campus with meaningful internship experiences that offered mentorship and educational supplement. Others will have engaged minimally with the subject matter they intended to explore. Some interns will have been paid, but many more will not. While most internships do involve menial tasks, they should not comprise the majority of the experience, especially if a student intends to seek academic credit. This issue also applies to prestigious outlets. Interning for a senator may look spectacular on a resume, but educational value is lacking if the student largely made coffee runs instead of engaging with legislative affairs.

Under NYU’s current standards, a student who was paid for an extraordinary experience would pay the same rate as a student who was paid nothing for a mediocre experience. While the latter student has been excessively billed for an ineffectual internship, it is likely that charging for credit would also hurt the former student as the cost of the credits would easily outweigh his or her earnings.

In charging for these varying experiences, universities are compensated for a service in which they have no substantial involvement. For instance, students seeking credit through Gallatin are required to keep a journal, write an essay and submit a brief performance evaluation to their advisors. However, the academic value remains questionable. There are no lectures, no recitations and no university facilities used. Moreover, the process still lacks enough oversight to ensure that the internship was as worthwhile as a class would have been.

While student activism resulted in greater transparency to identify “illegal, exploitative unpaid internships” on the Wasserman Center for Career Development website, CareerNet,  more is necessary. Under current standards, NYU could be compensated for an internship that would be disqualified from CareerNet had the student applied to the internship using alternate means. With tuition costs and insufficient financial aid, NYU should make efforts to maximize opportunity for educational experiences. Charging for internship credits does not advance this goal.

A version of this article appeared in the Sunday, Aug. 24 print issue. Email Christina Coleburn at [email protected]