While the creation of an Internship Coordinator position should ease the process of receiving compensation for internships once the office is fully functioning next semester, student interns from Wesleyan—and across the country—are currently fumbling over hurdles to receive both money and academic credit for their work. Many students struggle to obtain unpaid internships that require compensation in the form of academic credit due to the hesitancy of many Wesleyan departments to award credit for internships, not to mention the $2,000 fee that many students must pay the University to receive such credit.
“I got an internship with USA Today,” said Benjamin Soloway ’13. “They e-mailed me and said since the stipend was smaller than the federal labor laws’ minimum wage, in order to complete the internship I had to get documented credit with my university.”
Many companies require that student interns receive academic credit from their institutions in place of low or no pay. Students who apply for these jobs must navigate a maze of deans and departments to get credit—in many cases, the University’s official policy and the policies of individual departments contradict one another.
“There seems to be no unified policy throughout the departments,” Soloway said. “It’s haphazard.”
According to Dean Louise Brown, in order for students to gain academic credit for an internship they must complete an “Education in the Field” application. While the procedure varies for each department, the general process requires that a faculty member sponsor the internship. If approved, the student and faculty member determine a clear outline of goals, a final project, and a method for evaluating the internship. An Education in the Field would appear on the student’s transcript and could be worth anywhere from .25 to two credits depending on the faculty-student agreement. Up to four Education in the Field credits can be earned as part of the 32 credits required for graduation.
However, if a student is pursuing an Education in the Field credit during the summer or while on an authorized leave of absence during the academic year, they will be charged a special tuition rate, which is equal to one-tenth of a semester’s tuition—a total of approximately $2,000.
Although Brown empathized with students who must pay to get credit, she said that internships are intended to provide an opportunity for immer sion in real world work, not an extra line on a transcript.
“An internship is about gaining experience for the experience,” Brown said. “It’s ridiculous that [companies] are requiring credit.”
Some students, however, think that the University’s perspective is outdated.
“When the policy originated the internship market was probably different,” said one student who wished to remain anonymous. “Now that most good internships require credit, the school should give credit for legitimate work in a career-related field without charging the students unless that credit will make-up a significant portion of their major or graduation requirements. It should be like AP or transfer credits, reasonably restricted but without preposterous fees.”
Despite the University’s $2,000 requirement, some departments use a different process for allocating internship credit that allows students to dodge the fee. According to Associate Professor of English Indira Karamcheti, in order to gain an Education in the Field credit for a summer internship through the English department, a student must enroll in an independent tutorial the following semester. Through the tutorial, a student works with a faculty member to determine the significance of the experience within his or her academic career, and sidesteps the special tuition rate.
“There is some leeway since different departments handle internships in different ways,” Karamcheti said. “It’s a grey area for me—how much credit can you give for work that’s not necessarily academic? If you are working for a publishing company for example, how academically applicable is that? I could see that argument both ways.”
Because he will be interning for a newspaper, Soloway can receive credit from the English department through his internship and evade the extra fee.
“After meeting with the Dean and various professors, I was lucky to find the English Department had a good policy combining practical experience with academic work,” Soloway said. “But from all the literature on the school website and what the school officials told me, I thought before that I would have had to pay tuition.”
Brown said she did not know of any cases where a student did not take an internship because they could not afford the fee.
Nonetheless, students continue to fight the policy.
“Not everyone can afford to pay $2,000 out of pocket when they’re also already sacrificing a salary,” said another student who wished to remain anonymous. “You just shouldn’t have to pay to do work.”