Internship courses raise controversy
In 2013, the legality of unpaid internships came under heavy scrutiny. However, colleges and universities such as Brandeis continue to promote and profit from unpaid internships by requiring that students take courses in order to receive credit for their internships.
As February approaches, many students are starting to think about summer internship applications. According to the Hiatt Career Center's website, the summer is the most popular term for internships among Brandeis students, who typically complete 2.5 internships during their time at the University, according to the 2012 to 2013 Undergraduate Curriculum Committee report.
Trends in Academic Internships
According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers, about 55 percent of the members of the Class of 2012 held an internship or co-op position during their college career. That figure soared to 63 percent among members of the Class of 2013. Of those internships, almost 48 percent were unpaid, according to the same report.
As unpaid internships are becoming increasingly widespread, public scrutiny of these unpaid positions is also increasing. This past year, a high-profile ruling involving Fox Searchlight Pictures brought the debate on the legality of unpaid internships to the forefront of the conversation. In this case a federal judge ruled that the media distribution company violated minimum wage laws by failing to pay interns on the set of the film Black Swan. Since the June 2013 ruling, at least 17 other lawsuits have been filed by current or former interns against their employers, according to ProPublica, which launched an investigation last year to determine how many interns are being employed in violation of federal labor guidelines.
This year, ProPublica is extending its internship investigation and reporting, and placing a special focus on the trend of granting academic credit in exchange for unpaid work, as many employers now require that interns receive college credit in order to participate in an internship program.
Andrea Stern '14, who has completed numerous unpaid internships during her time at Brandeis, said that employers often offer college credit as a form of compensation to unpaid interns.
"Since many companies do not want to pay their interns, they think that a 'fair' trade off is to require interns to receive academic credit," wrote Stern in an email interview with the Justice.
ProPublica reports that 90 percent of schools nationwide offer credit for internships, although it is up to the college or university itself to decide how to grant that credit. Some schools in the Boston area, like Boston College, automatically grant credits to students upon successful completion of an internship, according to the college's website. However, Brandeis requires that students seeking academic credit for completing an internship also enroll in an internship course.
At Brandeis, the most popular way to receive credit for an internship during the academic year is through a four-credit internship seminar, otherwise known as 89a or 89b courses. Students have the option of enrolling in an internship class during the course of their internship or completing an internship over the summer and enrolling in the course during the academic year. Students are expected to enroll in an internship course in a department or program that is closely related to the content of the internship. About 40 percent of Brandeis students complete credit-bearing internships during their time at the University, according to the UCC report.
Students seeking credit are expected to meet during designated class times, as well as complete additional readings and assignments, including papers and presentations. While there are guidelines about the internships-for example, internships must be at least 100 hours over 10 weeks-the UCC grants faculty members the freedom to structure internship courses the way they see fit, according to Senior Associate Dean of Arts and Sciences for Undergraduate Education Elaine Wong. This is why some courses meet weekly, while others meet every other week. In addition, some courses have a heavier workload than others, according to Wong.
Last semester Brandeis offered 10 internship seminars in eight different departments, including Journalism, Business and Environmental Studies, among others. According to the Registrar's website, 160 students were enrolled in these courses during the fall 2013 semester.
This semester, Brandeis is offering six internship courses, two of which-INT 89b and POL89a-are new. According to the Registrar's website 70 students are currently enrolled in 89a/b internship courses, although that figure is subject to change as the semester proceeds.
As with any course, students have to pay the tuition fee in order to enroll in these courses. According to the University Registrar's website, the fee for each semester course required for degree credit is $5,498 ($1,374.38 per credit, per term) for undergraduate students who entered the University before the summer 2012 semester and $5,548 ($1,386.88 per credit, per term) for undergraduate students who entered the University after the spring 2012 semester.
According to these figures, the University has brought in over one million dollars this academic year from the 230 students enrolled in four-credit 89a/b internship courses alone. Given that the majority of instructors who teach these courses hold "lecturer," rather than "professor" status, the revenue from these courses is even greater for the University, as instructors with a lecturer status receive a smaller salary. According to the Faculty Guide, four of the six internship courses being offered this semester are taught by lecturers, while only two are taught by associate professors.
The same fee applies for international students, who are required to receive academic credit in order to participate in an internship program in the United States.
Drawbacks to University system
While Brandeis' method of granting academic credit for internships can be beneficial for students who want a structured learning experience in addition to their internship, it can be a burdensome time commitment for students who are required to receive college credit as a form of compensation for participating in an internship program.
Wajiha Chaudhry '14 took BUS 89A: "Work in the Global Business Environment: Internship and Seminar" last semester in conjunction with her internship at a recruitment firm in Boston. In an email to the Justice, Chaudhry wrote that although she learned a lot from the course, she "would [have preferred] not to take it ... just due to the time commitment." However, because her internship required college credit, Chaudhry chose taking the internship course over giving up her internship.
Although some students said that they do not benefit as much from a structured class experience, Wong says the alternative option of automatically granting students credit upon successful completing their internships has never been an option.
"Automatic credit has never been considered. ... It has never been accepted because the whole idea from faculty is, you're not getting credit for [the] internship, you're getting credit for the academic work that surround[s] the internship that makes the internship a better learning experience," said Wong.
Wong says that taking a course in tandem with completing the internship to grant credit allows for a better learning experience than simply completing an internship.
"If you can structure [the internship] around a course with readings, with assignments, it will be a stronger, better learning experience for the students, and they will have a better sense of the institution, organizational behavior, better reflections, thinking about how to tie in one's academic work with one's actual hands on learning, perhaps even constructive thought about the career-building and career development aspects of it, and the personal and professional development aspects of it," said Wong in an interview with the Justice.
Stern, who has taken JOUR 89a: "Contemporary Media Internship and Analysis" twice in order to receive credit for two different internships, said she agrees that taking an internship course can be a beneficial experience for students.
Stern said that one of the benefits of taking the class is that it grants students the opportunity to discuss their internships with their peers.
"Two people who intern in the television industry... can have vastly different experiences from each other. Therefore, discussing other student's internships is a great learning opportunity because it allows students to hear what makes a good internship, what people liked and disliked about their internship, and more" wrote Stern in an email to the Justice.
Matthew Naturman '14, who was enrolled in BUS 89a said he also benefited from the class discussions, and the class reading assignments. But Naturman said he questioned whether a semester-long course was the best method to enhance his internship experience.
"Aside from the intimate discussion based setting, for the most part I feel Hiatt could have held a few classes to introduce me to the same information," Naturman wrote in an email to the Justice.
Additionally, some students question the benefits of a semester-long course during the academic year for students who completed an internship over the summer.
Joseph DuPont, dean of Hiatt and instructor of one of the internship courses, addressed this issue in an email to the Justice.
When asked about the benefits of taking an internship course during the academic year for an internship completed over the summer, DuPont wrote that students taking the course after completing an internship "have a context in which to analyze and reflect upon their experience, which contributes to their ability to develop and articulate their academic, professional, and personal goals. Dialogue with faculty and fellow students also helps individuals understand their personal experience within a larger 'world of work' context, and learn from others' experiences."
Gil Zamir '15, a student who took BUS 89a during this past fall semester, agrees that there is some value in taking a course toward an internship completed over the summer.
"An internship course is not only meant to help someone in their internship, but also to reflect on it ... Reflection can really help students become better workers and market themselves better, which will get them a comparative advantage in this competitive job market," wrote Zamir in an email interview with the Justice.
But Zamir also admitted that it may be "difficult to hold a class that will be relevant in the same way to people that already finished their internship, and people that just started theirs."
For students completing a summer internship, a one-credit online option INT 92g: "Summer Internship" is available. In an email to the Justice, Stern wrote that she "considered taking an... internship class over the summer (but it only yielded one unit and cost around $400), which didn't seem practical."
Although there are drawbacks in Brandeis' method for granting academic credit for internships, Stern says she does not believe the problem lies with the internship courses.
"The real issue that I have is not with the class, but with the companies that require interns receive academic credit instead of a stipend [or] salary... I think that all interns should be paid and if they want to either take a course to receive academic credit or need to take an internship course for their major and minor, then that should be the intern's choice," wrote Stern in an email to the Justice.
In the meantime, Wong says that Brandeis is working to improve the internship program in order to better serve students.
"Brandeis hasn't worked out all of the kinks ... We're still trying to figure out what's the best way to support all internship opportunities ...We're never finished," said Wong.