For students interning during the academic year or over the summer, the possibility of receiving University credit is limited. The stringent policies of individual academic departments, in addition to a per-credit charge of nearly $2,000 for credits earned while not enrolled full-time in the University, have prevented many students from obtaining University academic credit for internships.
According to Mike Sciola, director of the Career Resource Center, certain labor laws in the U.S. require compensation for work, particularly in heavily regulated or unionized industries. For this reason, some unpaid internships require that students receive academic credit in place of a monetary stipend. The two means of receiving University credit for internships are through Education in the Field and independent study, for which students can apply a combined maximum of four credits toward graduation.
In the past 10 years, however, only 83 students in total have received credit for Education in the Field, according to University Registrar Anna van der Burg. These credits have mainly been applied to the psychology, government or sociology departments. Independent study, a lesser-utilized means of receiving credit for internships, is generally more intensive than Education in the Field and is often used as part of projects required for a major.
To obtain credit for internships that a student participated in while not enrolled in the University full-time, the student is required to pay a per-credit charge of ten percent the current rate of tuition, according to Dean for the Class of 2012 David Phillips. Since students are only technically enrolled in the University during an official academic semester on campus, this fee would apply to all internships that occur over the summer or during semesters off.
Since the University’s tuition and required fees total $19,467 per semester in the 2008-2009 academic year, the per-credit charge would be nearly $2,000. Given that students who choose this option are not enrolled full-time, they cannot receive financial aid toward this cost.
While the University offers about 22 or 23 Summer Experience Grants of up to $4000 each for rising juniors or seniors who work unpaid or low-paid summer internships, these grants are only available to students who are receiving need-based financial aid.
If Education in the Field is performed while the student is enrolled during the academic year, the cost of receiving credit is covered by tuition, but the student faces other logistical difficulties. According to Art History Professor Elizabeth Milroy, students frequently have to travel to internships, which can be especially difficult if they do not have a vehicle. In these types of cases, the student must be able to balance intern work with regular coursework.
Sarah Jeffrey ’09, who received psychology credit for an internship at Haddam Killingworth Elementary School, underscored that internships require a substantial time commitment.
“The internship took a lot of time investment, so I would not recommend taking it as an extra credit,” said Jeffrey, who was only taking three courses during the semester when she did her internship. She was able to count Education in the Field as a fourth credit for the semester after completing a related project.
Receiving academic credit for an internship ultimately depends upon the decision of the student’s faculty supervisor, who is a member of the department relating to the internship. This faculty supervisor is responsible for ascertaining the academic merit of the internship, in addition to evaluating the student’s work, to determine whether he or she should receive credit.
According to several faculty members, the internships that are most eligible for University credit are those that challenge students intellectually; they must involve more than simple tasks, such as answering a telephone or making coffee.
“There has to be documentation that the experience has a clear educational component such as attending colloquia, seminars, training sessions, one-on-one supervision, etc.,” wrote Ruth Striegel-Moore, chair of the psychology department, in an e-mail to The Argus.
It can be difficult for faculty supervisors to establish such value, however, which is why some departments, including economics and biology, rarely offer credit for internships.
“We love students to do summer research and don’t think they need to get college credit for it,” wrote Janice Naegele, chair of the biology department, in an e-mail to the Argus. “The experience is great.”
In many departments, including English and Art History, Education in the Field must incorporate more traditional academic work and sometimes a paper or project requirement in order to qualify for academic credit.
“[T]he student must demonstrate completion of substantive research and writing projects, equivalent to the research papers s/he would be assigned in a regular Wesleyan course,” Milroy said.
In years past, Art History majors have interned with a program at the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford. According to Milroy, the department has had to continually reevaluate the quality of this and other programs, usually with museums or historical societies, in order to ensure that they meet department standards.
The key to beneficial internships, as with other service-learning programs, is that they provide students the opportunity to learn in partnership with serving.
“Cynics would say it’s a way for organizations to get free labor,” Sciola said. “You have to determine: are students getting something out of it?”