Should Students Have to Pay Tuition for Internships?

Internship requirements continue to be added to diverse majors at colleges all over the country. Some complain there’s an unfair burden on students who need to earn money and cannot take unpaid internships just for the experience. Others wonder how valuable such experiences are in terms of actual learning opportunities. Now, some colleges are considering […]

BY Eliana Osborn

Should Students Have to Pay Tuition for Internships?

Internship requirements continue to be added to diverse majors at colleges all over the country. Some complain there’s an unfair burden on students who need to earn money and cannot take unpaid internships just for the experience. Others wonder how valuable such experiences are in terms of actual learning opportunities.

Now, some colleges are considering charging students tuition for the privilege of interning. Instead of being paid to work, or even working for free, internships may now cost money for participants.

Teacher preparation programs were some of the first to include on-the-job training in the form of student teaching. Traditionally, this was a semester-long time when a nearly graduated college student would work with a veteran teacher in a transitioning relationship. This semester spent off campus earned credits toward a degree; consequently, prospective teachers were still charged tuition.

Colleges say that internships cost them money by way of faculty and staff hours involved. The Washington Post reports that summer session, when most students choose to intern, is not included in regular tuition expenses. Per credit hour fees are charged to cover the supervision or verification required by college employees, even when they have no involvement in internship placement.

A group of students from Seton Hall University are currently asking for the tuition charge for internships to be ended. The school only requires internships for a few majors but is considering adding more fields. Any time a student is earning credit, schools charge for it, regardless of where the actual learning is taking place. Cleveland State University’s president has proposed allowing internships to appear on transcripts, without credit, as one way to mitigate the problem.

International internships are coveted and often charge placement fees for the privilege. The experience and connections of these opportunities may pay off in the long run, but agency fees can be in excess of $7,000 by one report. And, that is in addition to paying for college credit, travel, and general living expenses.  All this adds up and means international internships are one more way higher education experiences are very different for those on opposing ends of the economic ladder.

Interns have widely varying experiences in the field; some are nothing more than gophers or filers, learning little about the specific job. The Department of Labor regulates interns to try to prevent college students from being taken advantage of or used instead of hiring employees. For a business to be able to take work from someone without paying wages, they must meet six conditions. Primarily, “The internship, even though it includes actual operation of the facilities of the employer, is similar to training which would be given in an educational environment.” Theoretically, all benefits should be for the intern rather than the business. If these conditions are not met, interns must be paid at least minimum wage.

There’s little chance that colleges will stop charging tuition for those earning credit at internships. And, many students often can’t avoid having to pay to intern when internships are required for their degree. Working students are most affected, unable to continue in regular employment and work the hours required for an internship. As equal access – not just to enrollment, draws more scrutiny, new alternatives may need to be considered.