‘Internships’ too vague to be requirement for graduation, study finds

A recent study found that more research should be done on internships before making it a graduation requirement.

For many, job experience in the form of an internship can seem like a golden ticket to employment — but a recent study suggests it’s not that simple.

In February, Gov. Scott Walker included a proposal in the 2017-’19 biennial budget that would have required all UW System students to have work experience or complete an internship before graduation. Walker said this would bridge the gap between the classroom and workplace experience.

But ultimately, the Joint Finance Committee struck it down.

In response to the proposal, researchers at the Center for Research on College-Workforce Transitions conducted a three-month introductory review on work-based learning.

The review’s findings ran counter to Walker’s call to mandate internships. One of the main findings from the study was that internships lacked a clear definition, making it challenging for research to take characteristics like payment, duration and mentorship into account. As a result, Matt Hora, director of CWWT, showed that it’s not clear how internships should be set up.

Without a definition, it’s hard to see the effects of internships on students’ employability, long-term wages and career satisfaction — ultimately making it a challenge to provide a definitive claim about internships as a whole, Hora said.

“Just checking the box ‘I took an internship,’ doesn’t tell you much of anything about what that internship experience what was like,” Hora said.

Since institutional data only tracks whether or not students had an internship, it isn’t clear what the quality of the experience was like for students, Hora said.

Even outside of the study, there are hurdles across the UW System that stand in the way of mandating internships. For example, while UW-Madison and UW-Milwaukee are based in larger cities, he said certain majors at other UW System campuses may struggle to find meaningful internships that are accessible without relocation.

And not all internships are paid, which excludes students who can’t afford to work without compensation.

“Just thinking deeply about these things before jumping in and making a requirement — I think that’s just the main recommendation from our lit review. We can’t just mandate internships without doing a lot of the homework behind thinking through ‘What does it take to do this well so that employers and students have a good experience?’ because if we just jump into it, there is evidence that internships can be designed and implemented poorly,” Hora said. “That doesn’t benefit anybody.”

While the review suggests more research must be done, it doesn’t completely denounce the value of an internship.

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